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George B. Rathmann

George B. Rathmann
  • Born: December 25, 1927, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Died: April 22, 2012, Palo Alto, California

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0187
Interview Dates: September 16, 1999 and September 17, 1999
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Interviewers: David C. Brock, Leo B. Slater and Arnold Thackray
No. of pages: 107
Minutes: 180
Sponsor: Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

George Rathmann begins the interview with a discussion of his family background and childhood years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At an early age, Rathmann developed an interest in chemistry, which was partially fueled by both his elder brother and brother-in-law, who were chemists, and his high-school chemistry teacher, Mr. Leaker. After high school, Rathmann attended Northwestern University, where he later earned his B.S. in physical chemistry. After receiving his B.S., Rathmann intended to go on to medical school. However, his desire to work on the research end of medicine was strong, and he decided to continue in physical chemistry, receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1952. Even before Rathmann finished his Ph.D. thesis, he was hired by 3M Company as a research chemist. In his twenty-one years with 3M, Rathmann worked in many capacities, rising through the ranks to become the Manager of X-ray Systems in 1969. Rathmann credits his nurturing and positive experience at 3M as being very influential during his future career. Rathmann left 3M in 1972 to become President of Litton Medical Systems. Disliking the environment and philosophy of Litton, Rathmann left in 1975 to join Abbott Laboratories as Vice President of Research and Development in the Diagnostics Division. Rathmann enjoyed the aspects of managing research and development initiatives. While with Abbott, Rathmann first became interested in recombinant DNA. His desire to learn more about DNA served as the impetus for his career move into the then-emerging field of biotechnology. Rathmann left Abbott and joined Amgen in 1980, where he still serves as Chairman Emeritus. As Amgen's Chairman, President and CEO, Rathmann worked very hard to procure the venture capital needed to start-up a major biotech company. Amgen burst into the world of biotechnological discovery with Dr. Fu Kuen Lin cloning the human erythropoietin gene, which led to the development of Amgen's Epogen and Neupogen. In 1983, Rathmann joined the Board of the newly formed Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), serving as Chairman in 1987–88. Working with his colleagues in the biotechnology world, Rathmann felt that his time with BIO was a great learning experience. By 1990, Rathmann felt that he had accomplished all that he could with Amgen and became Chairman of ICOS Corporation. Rathmann concludes the interview with thoughts on his years at ICOS and the future of biotechnology.


1948 B.S., Physical Chemistry, Northwestern University
1952 Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Princeton University

  Professional Experience

3M Company

1951 - 1955 Research Chemist

3M Company

1955 - 1958 Research Manager

3M Company

1958 - 1965 Research Director

3M Company

1965 - 1969 Group Technical Director

3M Company

1969 - 1972 Manager X-Ray Systems

Litton Medical Systems, Inc.

1972 - 1975 President

Abbott Laboratories

1975 - 1980 Vice President, Research and Development, Diagnostics Division

Amgen, Inc.

1980 - 1988 Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

Amgen, Inc.

1988 - 1990 Chairman

Amgen, Inc.

1990 Chairman Emeritus

ICOS Corporation

1990 - 2000 Chairman

ICOS Corporation

1991 - 2000 President and Chief Executive Officer

ICOS Corporation

2000 Chairman Emeritus

Hyseq, Inc.

2000 Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer


1987 Gold Medallist Biotechnology CEO of the Year
1988 Gift of Life Award, Illinois Chapter of the National Kidney Foundation
1988 Annual Recognition Award, Washington, DC, National Kidney Foundation
1988 Annual Recognition Award, Los Angeles, National Kidney Foundation
1988 Gold Medallist Biotechnology CEO of the Year
1990 Entrepreneur of the Year, Los Angeles area
1992 BioPharm Achievement Award
1995 Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, UCLA
1997 California Lutheran Honorary Doctorate
1997 Bower Award for Business Leadership
1999 Biotechnology Heritage Award, Chemical Heritage Foundation and BIO

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Family background. Siblings. Interest in chemistry. High-school influences. Attending Northwestern University. Desire to attend medical school. Commitment to medical research. Family perceptions.

Educational Career 10

Meeting Joy (wife). Marriage in 1950. Experiences at Northwestern. Developing an interest in physical chemistry. Attending Princeton University. Charles Phelps Smyth. Patrick L. McGeer. Moving away from academia into industry. Paul J. Flory.

Early Professional Career 21

Working at 3M Company. Poly-1,1-dihydroperfluorobutyl. Encouragement of ideas. Recognition for innovation. Scotchguard. Frank A. Bovey. Fifteen-percent mandate. Movement into management. Richard Drew. Fixed responsibility. Leaving 3M for Litton Medical Systems. Medical-imaging equipment. Becoming President of Litton. Rethinking career direction. Decision to leave Litton for Abbott Laboratories.

Biotechnology Beginnings 38

Fascination with recombinant DNA. Leaving Abbott for Amgen, Inc. Obtaining venture capital. Martin Cline. Willingness to take risks. Emergence of biotechnology awareness. Cetus. Charles Weissmann. Interferon and erythropoietin. Gene Goldwasser. Scaling-up. Epogen. Working with academic institutions. Expanding research.

Career in Biotechnology 58

Involvement in Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Government interaction. Educating public about biotechnology. Fostering better public understanding. Relationship between BIO and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PHARMA). Developing and structuring a biotech company. Recruiting scientists. Product development and completion. Importance of internal education. Training programs. Partnerships.

Scientific Developments 80

Neupogen development. Interleukin-2. Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) research. Food and Drug Administration. Importance of venture capitalists. Robert Swanson. Patenting issues.

Conclusion 93

Leaving Amgen for ICOS Corporation. Raising money. Future of biotechnology.

Notes 100

Index 101

  About the Interviewers

David C. Brock

David C. Brock is a senior research fellow with the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. As a historian of science and technology, he specializes in the history of semiconductor science, technology, and industry; the history of instrumentation; and oral history. Brock has studied the philosophy, sociology, and history of science at Brown University, the University of Edinburgh, and Princeton University.

In the policy arena Brock recently published Patterning the World: The Rise of Chemically Amplified Photoresists, a white-paper case study for the Center’s Studies in Materials Innovation. With Hyungsub Choi he is preparing an analysis of semiconductor technology roadmapping, having presented preliminary results at the 2009 meeting of the Industry Studies Association.

Leo B. Slater

Leo Slater was the 2001–2002 John C. Haas Fellow and a senior research historian at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, where he also served as Director of Historical Services from 1997 to 2000. A former research chemist at the Schering-Plough Research Institute, he received his doctorate in History from Princeton University in 1997.

Arnold Thackray

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

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