Modern Biotechnology is Now 40 – Happy Birthday!

Genentech birthday 40 biotechnology cohen boyer swanson

Genentech has turned 40 years old this month – quite a milestone for the pioneer of modern biotechnology, which is still rocking it in San Francisco, US.

genentech_40_birthday_industrial_biotechnologyIt all began with an experiment conducted by a team led by Herbert Boyer of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), studying antibiotic resistance plasmids in E. coli, and Stanley Cohen of Stanford University, who was studying restriction enzymes.

After getting a proof of concept for recombinant DNA, Boyer and Robert Swanson (who had been a partner at a VC) would start with a $1000 investment.

Herbert Boyer and Robert ‘Bob’ Swanson Co-Founded Genentech (Source: Genentech)

With no assets, rented equipment, or even a part-time secretary, the pair launched on April 7th, 1976. 

The name of the company? GENetic ENgineering TECHnology – Genentech.

The company would go a long way, including to become the first to produce synthetic human insulin and human growth hormone. This paved the way for industrial biotechnology as we know it.

Genentech co-founders Herb Boyer and Bob Swanson at a Ho-Ho, the company’s famous Friday afternoon social gathering (Source: Genentech)

For the full story, read our History of Biotech‘ special on Genentech.

After Genentech was founded, the industry was starting to establish itself around their lead. And the monetization of biotech discovery and technology really started with the Cohen-Boyer patents

These legislative pieces, pioneered by Cohen and Boyer’s (and Genentech’s) discoveries are really what made the industry take off – by making research lucrative.


Genentech is looking back on its origins with 50 key moments at

Genentech was later acquired by Switzerland-based Roche in 2009 (for the modest sum of $46.3Bn), but its identity is still going strong.

It remains the cornerstone of the ‘Biotech Bay‘ in San Francisco, with a massive 14,000 employee base.

Genentech was even named as the best life science company to work in the US. According to Biospace, Ian Clark, Genentech’s CEO, said:

While I am deeply proud of the impact our industry has had on people with serious diseases, I know our work is far from done. I look forward to making even greater progress for patients in the years to come.” 

To celebrate the anniversary, April 7 will now be Biotechnology Day in the state of California.

Genentech is celebrating its 40th birthday by reminiscing its origins…


Featured image credit: Remix of Graphics by Labiotech (Source: Genentech)

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