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Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Tuesday, May 7, 2019
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
The Interferon Tournament: Credit Markets and Economies of Honor in the First Age of Biotech
Nicolas Rasmussen, Professor, Programs in History and Environment & Society, School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales,

Abstract: In 1980, as the first gene splicing firms were floated on the US stock market, what the public most wanted from biotech was interferon. This imagined cancer cure was a holy grail not just to patients, but to scientists vying for the honor of cloning it, and for the managers and investors in biotech firms seeking to monetize the science. Drawing on archival and courtroom evidence to look behind the scenes and resolve variations between competing accounts, this talk reconstructs the race to clone interferon in several commercially funded labs, and the extension of this scientific race into legal, regulatory and business domains. The larger aim is to show how in this earliest period of biotech, when the attention of life scientists converged on biological objects offering both intellectual and commercial reward, there emerged a mingled economy of scientific and financial credit which altered both regimes of value in particular ways.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at ftise@hss.caltech.edu.