225 Years of Building Better Lives
header image
Share Your Story
Explorations in Science and Technology

Launching the Biotech Industry


When Herbert Boyer encountered the DNA molecule as an undergraduate studying biology and chemistry, it was love at first sight.

"The whole structure was so beautiful and it explained so much about genetics," Boyer recalled. "It put me on a career path."

Nine years later, he earned a Pitt PhD. A decade after that, Boyer and scientist Stanley Cohen discovered how to cut and transfer individual genes within the DNA molecule from one organism to another. The discovery launched the biotechnology industry.

Boyer went on to cofound Genentech, the first company of that industry, and within two years it synthesized human insulin. Today, millions of people depend on the company's drugs to treat cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other diseases.

In 1989, Boyer won the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed by the president of the United States; a year later, he won the National Medal of Science, likewise bestowed by the president. In 2004, Boyer won the Shaw Prize, Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

In 2000, Boyer and his wife established the Herbert W. and Grace Boyer Chair in Molecular Biology in Pitt's Department of Biological Sciences.