Robert A. Swanson
Posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his foresight and leadership in recognizing the commercial promise of recombinant DNA technology and his seminal role in establishing and developing the biotechnology industry, Robert A. Swanson '69 knew he was on to something big when he co-founded Genentech in 1976. Schooled in enterprise and the sciences and aiming to change lives, he was uniquely able to mobilize the possibilities of recent advances in molecular biology at a time when their potential still eluded most in industry and academia. Under Swanson's leadership Genentech translated genetic engineering technologies into applications for broader society, developing new products such as human insulin, interferons, human growth hormone and thrombolytic agents, which dissolve blood clots. Based on discoveries made at MIT, the company also developed the anti-cancer drug Herceptin™. Genentech remains one of the world's most prolific biotechnology innovators.
Swanson served as a director and as chief executive officer of Genentech for fourteen years before being named chairman of the board, a position he held until retiring in 1996. Prior to forming the company, Swanson was a partner with Kleiner & Perkins venture capital partnership in San Francisco, and an investment officer with Citicorp Venture Capital Ltd. Upon his retirement from Genentech, Swanson formed K&E Management, a private investment management firm. He also served as chairman of the board of directors of Tularik, Inc., a biotechnology firm focused on therapeutics that act through the regulation of gene expression.
Holding degrees from MIT in chemistry and business, Swanson was an active and enthusiastic alumnus. He served his alma mater in several leadership capacities, including as a founding board member of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center. Swanson was also involved in the oversight of several other academic, civic and cultural institutions, in Boston and in Northern California where he resided with his family. He died from brain cancer on December 6, 1999 at the age of 52.