Image of a cell

Herbert W. Boyer

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his contributions to the basic research of the development of recombinant DNA technology. This seminal breakthrough has opened new vistas in experimental biology, and it has led directly to the development of the biotechnology industry.

At St. Vincent’s College, Herbert W. Boyer started in the pre-med program with the goal of becoming a doctor. By the time he graduated college, Boyer instead decided on a research career—one that contributed significantly to innovative medical treatments.

At a conference in Hawaii in the early 70s, Boyer met Stanley Cohen and the two began a collaboration that eventually led to the creation of the first recombinant DNA. Recombinant DNA is the process of taking genetic material from one organism and introducing it into another organism, where it is replicated and expressed. Their development pioneered the field of genetic engineering.

Venture capitalist Robert Swanson approached Boyer with a proposal to develop and market the technology. Boyer and Swanson co-founded the company Genentech, which continues to be one of the largest biotechnology companies in the world. Using Boyer and Cohen’s recombinant DNA technology, Genentech developed the method for synthesizing human insulin. The company continues to research and develop lifesaving treatments for diseases.

By Jen Santisi