Senator John Heinz

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The Heinz Awards

1996

William Rutter

Dr. William Rutter receives the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment for his role in helping to create the biotechnology industry and for his interest in shaping that industry to serve society.

A first-rate scientist and academic leader, Dr. Rutter was among the first to recognize the potential of biomedical sciences to produce marketable goods and services. The success of the company he created, Chiron Corporation, helped to spur the rapid emergence of the "biotech" industry, as did his earlier crafting of the University of California at San Francisco's program in biological and genetic research. Today, Chiron remains one of the world's few biopharmaceutical companies making important contributions to health while succeeding commercially. As a researcher, educator, and corporate leader, Dr. Rutter has nurtured an important new science and demonstrated both its profitability and its medical utility.

In 1968, Dr. Rutter took the reins of an undistinguished biochemistry program at the University of California at San Francisco and set about transforming it. Spurred by his successful recruitment of leading molecular biologists, UCSF's lab made important early contributions to biotechnology, including development of recombinant cloning techniques and the first cloning of insulin and growth hormone genes. Under Dr. Rutter's leadership, UCSF became recognized as one of the most vigorous and innovative places carrying out fundamental biological and genetic research.

But Dr. Rutter's passion for science extended beyond discovery. He believed that the science of biotechnology he was then helping to pioneer, had enormous potential applications to the field of medicine. He also sensed, however, that the existing "technology transfer" structure between universities and the pharmaceutical industry was ill equipped to accommodate a boom in the biological sciences. Therefore, to explore the business applications of his research, he joined in 1981 with two University of California colleagues to found Chiron Corporation.

Known for its programs in infectious disease, Chiron approached its research in a novel way by seeking to coordinate the development of vaccines, diagnostics, and innovative treatment strategies as part of a coherent effort to combat disease. Among the fruits of this approach were the first genetically engineered vaccine (for hepatitis B), the discovery of hepatitis C, and diagnostic tests used worldwide to ensure that blood or blood products are not contaminated with hepatitis B and C or HIV. The company also produces biological products to treat multiple sclerosis and the illness known as Lou Gehrig's disease, as well as products designed to boost the immunological defense mechanisms of cancer patients. The company has also become active in the study of gene therapy, an area Dr. Rutter sees as an especially promising avenue for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases.

Dr. Rutter is understandably proud of his formation of a successful, science-driven company. But it is significant that he is even more proud of the contribution his company has made to advancing the cause of human health, and the achievements of his colleagues and students in illuminating fundamental biological mechanisms and solutions to human disease. He is devoted to the principle that scientific innovation is the key to solving many of our most challenging and urgent problems.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD

November 2007 - The University of California, San Francisco named its new building the William J. Rutter Center, in honor of the former university leader who helped bridge the gap between academia and industry and has been a pivotal influence on the biotech world since he became head of the university's biochemistry department in 1969.

March 2005 - Dr. Rutter announces that he will leave his position on the board of directors at Sangamo BioSciences. After five years on the board, Rutter is leaving "to devote more time to several early stage technology companies of which he is a founder and principal supporter." - PR Newswire

December 2002 - Dr. Rutter receives the 2003 Biotechnology Heritage Award from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He is honored with the award for his contributions to vaccination and genome research as well as his tireless work in the field of biotechnology in general.

May 2001 - Dr. Rutter's company, the Chiron Corporation, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The company has led the way in biotechnology, and boasts a resume that includes developing "the first genetically engineered vaccine" and deciphering "the genetic sequence of the HIV and Hepatitis C viruses." - The Contra Costa Times

September 2000 - Dr. Rutter's Chiron Corporation is honored with the 2000 Lasker Award for clinical medical research. The award goes to the corporation for its breakthrough research on the Hepatitis C virus and for its development of new blood screening technologies.

January 2000 - Dr. Rutter receives the Bower Award for business leadership from the Franklin Institute. The medal is given to Rutter "for his role as the father of bio-technology." - The Franklin Institute

May 1996 - Dr. Rutter receives the prestigious University of California, San Francisco Medal for his personal contributions in the health sciences. He is honored for leading the institution into early discoveries in the field of biotechnology, "including the development of recombinant cloning techniques and the first cloning of insulin and growth hormone genes" which Rutter supervised when he chaired the biochemistry department at the university. - Business Wire

William Rutter