CORRESPONDENCE

Genentech was not the first biotech company

Five Alarm Bio, Cambridge, UK.
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In his illuminating history of corporate research, Paul Lucier repeats the common mistake of calling Genentech the first biotechnology firm (Nature 574, 481–485; 2019). Cetus was founded five years earlier, in 1971, by Nobel-prizewinner Donald Glaser and others. It initially developed microbial processes for producing chemical feedstocks, including propylene oxide and antibiotic intermediates. The corporation later pivoted to therapeutics.

Genentech was backed by venture capital. Cetus was funded largely by other means, including support from Standard Oil. Consequently, Cetus and a few other early biotech companies — Irvine Scientific, Gamma Biologicals and Cell Associates among them — have been overlooked or long forgotten because of a history that equates biotech with venture-capital-funded drug discovery.

Nature 577, 622 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00187-1

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