University of Pittsburgh
June 20, 2004

Pitt Alumnus Herbert W. Boyer Shares $1 Million Shaw Prize

Award established in Hong Kong hailed as "Nobel Prize of the East"

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh alumnus Herbert W. Boyer, cofounder of Genentech and professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is one of the recipients of the newest million-dollar science award, the Shaw Prize. The award was announced May 27 in Hong Kong by the Shaw Prize Foundation. Boyer will share the $1 million prize in Life Sciences and Medicine with research partner Stanley Cohen of Stanford University, for discoveries related to DNA cloning and genetic engineering, and scientist Kan Yuet-Wai, the Louis K. Diamond Professor of Hematology and professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF, for his research on DNA polymorphism.

A second Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and Medicine was awarded this year to retired University of Oxford, U.K., scientist Sir Richard Doll, for his contribution to modern cancer epidemiology; Shaw Prizes also were awarded in Astronomy and Mathematical Sciences.

"The University of Pittsburgh takes great pride in the wonderful news that alumnus Herb Boyer will receive the Shaw Prize," said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "Without question, his seminal work in the field of genetic engineering has not only revolutionized science but has also truly advanced the cause of human health—making him one of the most important figures of our day. It is extremely gratifying to see Dr. Boyer's contributions recognized by such a prestigious international award. He is an inspiring example for us all."

Hong Kong media executive Run Run Shaw, who made his fortune producing a string of kung-fu action movies, established the Shaw Prize in 2002 to honor scientists for breakthroughs in academic and scientific research. Boyer and the other winners will be honored at a Sept. 7 ceremony in Hong Kong. Nobel Laureate Yang Chen-ning, an ex-officio member of the council of the Shaw Prize Foundation, said recently that he hoped the award would soon become comparable to the Nobel Prize. Yang received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957.

Boyer, a former member of Pitt's Board of Trustees, and Cohen, Distinguished Professor of Genetics and professor of medicine at Stanford, are being recognized for developing recombinant DNA technology, or gene cloning, which involves the transfer of genes from one organism to another. Prior to their collaboration, there was no way to isolate an individual gene from cells. Their research has served as the foundation for genetic engineering and the creation of the biotechnology industry.

In April, Boyer and Cohen shared the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. In 2000, Pitt honored Boyer with the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa. Boyer and Cohen were awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1980 and the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 1996. Boyer has won the Medal of Technology and the National Medal of Science, and he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Boyer earned the Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in biological sciences from Pitt's Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1960 and 1963, respectively, after receiving the Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. In 2000, he and his wife provided $1.5 million to establish the Herbert W. and Grace Boyer Chair in Molecular Biology in Pitt's Department of Biological Sciences.

In 1976, Boyer cofounded one of the world's first biotechnology companies, Genentech, which uses recombinant DNA technology to produce commercial pharmaceutical products. Two years later, Genentech synthesized human insulin, which has enhanced the lives of millions of diabetics. In 1985, Genentech received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the growth hormone protropin, which became the first recombinant pharmaceutical product to be manufactured and marketed by a biotechnology company.