Synthetic Drugs via Genetic Manipulation (Biotech)

Synthetic hormones via genetic manipulation allow for new and improved drugs. For example, insulin that remains stable at room temperature, growth hormones grown in a vat instead of harvested from cadavers, and countless others.


Herbert Boyer was a scientist working on synthesizing DNA, one of many.

Robert Swanson was a venture capitalist. He left Citi, where he ran a $100M venture capital fund, to struck out on his own. The then two-person firm of Kleiner, Perkins gave him a desk but not a job.

Swanson convinced Boyer to start a company to create synthetic hormones.

The first one they worked on was growth hormone somatostatin. Development took a long time, landing Swanson in the hospital with a nervous breakdown. However, they achieved creating the synthetic hormone Aug. 15, 1977.

Kleiner, Perkins, & Genentech

Subsequently, they went on to create synthetic insulin, rather than animal-derived insulin. Racing against others they achieved that, too, licensing it to Eli Lily who branded it Humulin. In Oct. 1985, Genentech released human growth hormone.

While starting Genentech, Swanson survived for six months on unemployment. Eventually, after Boyer and others gained some traction, Kleiner & Perkins invested $100,000 and the company. Kleiner, Perkins eventually invested another $100,000 that subsequently returned 800x their investment.

Besides funding issues, Boyer faced ridicule from the scientific for commercializing his work. Additionally, he was subject to patent challenges from thought partners later.

There was widespread public hysteria about creating biohazards. Luddites argued that manipulating human DNA would inadvertently unleash a zombie apocalypse. As of 2019, the only sign of a zombie apocalypse is people walking while staring at smartphones, a phenomenon not tied to synthetic hormones.