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Dennis A. Carson

Dennis A. Carson

Detail of Image, CHF Collections, Photograph by Carol Sonstein, San Diego Business Journal

  • Born: May 31, 1936, New York, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0329
Interview Date: March 12, 2006
Location: San Diego, California
Interviewer: Ted Everson
No. of pages: 50
Minutes: 116

  Abstract of Interview

Dennis A. Carson begins the interview with a discussion about growing up in the Atomic Age, moving between the boroughs of New York City. After showing an early interest in chemistry, Carson attended Stuyvesant High School, a well-known school with a science-based curriculum. Upon graduating in 1962, Carson decided to attend Haverford College, a Quaker school outside of Philadelphia, hoping to balance his science background with a degree in the liberal arts. While there, he received a research grant from Smith, Kline, and French to study trichimonas and taught in Haverford's laboratories. He earned a B.A. in history and returned to New York City to attend Columbia University's medical school, where he worked in immunologist Elliott F. Osserman's lab experimenting with tissue cultures. After earning his M.D., Carson completed his internship and residency in California before joining the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Associate Training Program to defer the Vietnam War draft. While at the NIH, Carson worked under Henry Metzger radiolabeling immunoglobulins and assigning affinity labels. In 1974, Carson left to work in Jay Seegmiller's lab at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There, his research centered around ADA deficiency's effect on the immune system. Carson continued this research as an assistant member of the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He spent his time developing, synthesizing, manufacturing, and running trials for Leustatin, a drug for hairy cell leukemia that was approved in 1993. While at Scripps, Carson co-founded Vical a biotech company that develops DNA vaccines. Over the next decade, he founded other drug-development companies such as Triangle Pharmaceuticals, Dynamax Inc., and Salmedix. When Jay Seegmiller retired from UCSD's Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging in 1990, Carson took his place as director—splitting his time between research and fund-raising. He left in 2003 to head Moores UCSD Cancer Research Center, where he has two drugs in development. Next, Carson describes the numerous awards and appointments he has received, including nomination to the National Academy of Sciences, a rare feat for a doctor. Carson concludes the interview by discussing San Diego's biotech community and his predictions and concerns for its future.


1966 B.A., History, Haverford College
1970 M.D. Columbia University

  Professional Experience

University of California, San Diego

1970 - 1972 Resident, Internal Medicine

University of California, San Diego

1974 - 1975 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Medicine

University of California, San Diego

1988 - 1990 Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine

University of California, San Diego

1990 - Present Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine

University of California, San Diego

1990 - 2003 Director, The Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging

National Institutes of Health

1972 - 1974 Clinical Associate, Section on Chemical Immunology, Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch, National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Disease

Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation

1976 - 1980 Assistant Member, Department of Clinical Research

Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation

1980 - 1986 Associate Member, Department of Basic and Clinical Research

Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation

1986 - 1990 Member, Department of Basic and Clinical Research

University of California, San Diego Medical Center

2003 - Present Director, Moores Cancer Center

University of California, San Diego Medical Center

2003 - Present Chugai Pharmaceutical Chair in Cancer

University of California, San Diego Medical Center

2003 - Present Associate Dean for Health Sciences


1966 Phi Beta Kappa
1966 Cope Fellowship
1970 Alpha Omega Alpha
1987 Lee C. Howley, Sr., Prize for Arthritis Research
1995 Elected member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1995 Sc.D. (Honorary), University of Aix-Marseille
2002 International Rheumatology Award, Japan Rheumatism Association
2003 Mayo-Soley Award, Western Association of Physicians
2003 Elected member, National Academy of Sciences
2004 American Association for Cancer Research-Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award
2005 Member, Institute of Medicine
2005 Chester Stock Award, Memorial Sloan-Kittering Cancer Center
2005 BIOCOM Life Sciences Heritage Award, BIOCOM and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Childhood and Early Education 1

Growing up in New York. Early interest in science. Brother and parents. Attending Stuyvesant High School. Working in the New York Public Library's patent office.

College Education 8

Studying history at Haverford College. Lab work at the Smith, Kline, and French factory. Medical school at Columbia University. Working with Elliott F. Osserman on methods to create tissue cultures.

Postdoctorate work 13

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for internship and residency. Working at the Salk Institute under Martin G. Weigert, radiolabeling immunoglobulins. Two-year commitment to National Institutes of Health, studying IgE receptors in Henry Metzger's lab. Return to UCSD for post-doc work with Jarvis E. Seegmiller on ADA deficiencies. Fellowships to research rheumatism and leukemia lymphoma.

Career at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation 19

Working with Ernest Beutler while developing 2-CdA. Hairy cell leukemia trials. Thoughts on drug development. Founding Vical with friend Karl Y. Hostetler. Naked DNA research.

Director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UCSD 24

Background on the company. Lab research and endowment program. Organized research units.

Director of the Moore Cancer Center 27

History of the Center. Comprehensive cancer centers. Importance of interdisciplinary research units.

Biotech companies founded by Carson 29

Triangle Pharmaceuticals. Dynavax Technologies. Salmedix, Inc. The Orphan Drug Act.

Accomplishments 32

Election to the National Academy of Sciences. Receiving the Arthritis Foundation Lee C. Howley, Sr., prize, the American Association Cancer Research Bruce Kane Memorial Award, and the BIOCOM Life Sciences Award. Importance of educational programs.

The Biotech Industry 34

San Diego biotech community. Government regulation and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Influencing policy.

Notes 37

Index 38

  About the Interviewer

Ted Everson

Ted Everson, the director of clinical communications at Vital Issues in Medicine (VIM), a medical education company, earned a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science and technology from the University of Toronto and an M.S. in medical genetics from the University of British Columbia. During his tenure at CHF he founded the biotechnology program, which included focused scholarship on industry development. He is the author of The Gene: A Historical Perspective (2007), "Genetic Engineering Methods" in The Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Technology (2004), and "Genetics and Molecular Biology" in History of the Exact Sciences and Mathematics (2002).

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