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Gene Jockeys: Life Science and the Rise of Biotech Enterprise

Introduction and Description

Gene Jockeys
is the first book to attempt a detailed, impartial analysis of the scientific, commercial, clinical, and social history around the development of the first generation recombinant drugs -- the central projects of what has been labeled the 'biotechnology revolution'. 
Drawing on the biomedical, business, and patent law literature, as well as courtroom evidence, and interviews with the biologists calling themselves 'gene jockeys' who made it all happen, this book reconstructs the stories behind five of the first ten pharmaceutical products to come from biotech.  It recaptures the heady days when molecular biology, one of the fastest-moving and glamorous fields of basic science in the 20th century, first met the business world.

Access a recent interview with Carla Nappi about Gene Jockeys on New Books Network

Praise and Reviews of Gene Jockeys:

"Gene Jockeys is a scholarly and fascinating account of the early days of the biotechnology industry. With lots of technical detail this should appeal to the serious molecular biologists and biotechnologists interested in the roots of their discipline"
Sir Richard Roberts, New England Biolabs; Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine

This is a remarkably original account of the first two decades of the biotechnology industry,  when molecular geneticists from academia joined with venture capitalists and hungry investors to form the smart and nimble companies that turned into the powerhouses of Amgen and Biogen, Genentech and Genetics Institute. Rasmussen reveals how they did it, taking us inside the firms themselves by using interviews and business records – including telephone calls, private conversations, and laboratory notebooks – that patent infringement suits made public. He tells a rich and eye-opening story, spotlighting how the first generation of biotechnologists made their firms vital outposts of academic culture and how the firms achieved and marketed blockbuster drugs such as erythropoietin in the enabling environment of federal statutes and court decisions. In all, an even-handed, informative, and important book"
Daniel Kevles, Yale University; author of In the Name of Eugenics, The Physicists, and The Baltimore Case

"Gene Jockeys is a tour de force. Following the trail of the twists and turns in the experimental paths that yielded the first recombinant drugs, Rasmussen offers the reader a clear view of the difficulties that were encountered in the application of the new science of recombinant DNA… These case studies he sets in a changing scenario of the transition of the early researchers from quasi-academic style work habits to the more secretive and competitive environment of the drug industry. An important book for today’s readers of contemporary science"

   - Robert Olby, University of Pittsburgh; author of Path to the Double Helix and Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets

"Was there ever a biotechnology revolution? Prof. Rasmussen's fascinating and highly entertaining account of the early days of commercial biotechnology tell us that, despite many remarkable feats of science, there was no therapeutic or business revolution. This book is essential not just for historians of business and the life sciences, but also for intellectual property scholars who will find that the patent system rather than ushering in the revolution helped ensure it would never happen"

- Graham Dutfield,
University of Leeds; author of Intellectual Property Rights and the Life Science Industries

"Although some would assign more societal benefit and importance to the early products of Biotech than Rasmussen, the stories of the competition between teams of scientists to produce the first set of human proteins as therapeutics are both exciting and revealing of the faults of mankind."

  - Phillip Sharp,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine


Rasmussen achieves admirably what he sets out to accomplish... Gene Jockeys will be the go-to source on the history of the biotech industry in the 1980s for some time to come.

    - American Historical Review

A welcome corrective to both triumphant and alarmist accounts concerning the entanglement of molecular biology in particular and universities in general with business interests... Rasmussen succeeds in delivering a readable and engaging account of this exciting episode in the history of molecular biology,

    - British Journal for the History of Science

An engaging, informative work appropriate for general readers and beginning students of molecular biology and biotechnology... Highly recommended.

    - Choice

Well-written and engaging... Gene Jockeys is an in-depth look at the early days of biotech, when many thought genetic engineering might conquer every disease and when microbiologists were poised to become the academic world's equivalent of rock stars.

    - Health Affairs

An impressive book ... with a new frame of reference that effectively treats the biotech revolution of the 1970s and 1980s as a distinct historical moment. Any scholars interested in the history of early biotechnology will find
Gene Jockeys essential reading.

    - Journal of the History of Biology

Gene Jockeys is a gracefully written and authoritatively researched account of early American biotech...  Rasmussen reconstructs a history from which he draws lessons that deserve wide attention. Packed into this short book is an extraordinary amount of information and insight, on everything from how exactly the cloning of genes got done in 1978 to the geopolitics of science funding in the twentieth century.

    - Medical History

The Author
: Nicolas Rasmussen is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, in the School of Humanities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.  His previous work on the history of molecular biology has been recognized with the book prize of the Forum for History of Science in America from the History of Science Society and the Paul Bunge Prize of the Volkswagen Stiftung, from the German Chemical Society (for Picture Control).  Gene Jockeys was awarded a "Highly Commended" in the British Medical Association's 2015 Book Awards (basis of medicine category).  

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