William Haseltine

Chairman and chief executive officer, Human Genome Sciences

Nationality: American.

Born: October 17, 1944, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Education: University of California, Berkeley, BA, 1966; Harvard University, PhD, 1973.

Family: Son of William R. Haseltine (retired physicist) and Jean Adele Ellsberg (French teacher); married Patricia Gercik (divorced); married Gale Hayman (creator of Giorgio perfume), 1991; children: two (first marriage).

Career: Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, 1976–1978, assistant professor; 1979–1988, associate professor; 1988–1993, professor; Human Genome Sciences, 1992–, founder, chairman, and CEO.

Awards: Carter Burden Award for contributions to aging, 1995; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1996; Greater Washington Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young, 1996; High Technology Entrepreneur of the Year, KPMG Peat Maverick, 1996.

Address: Human Genome Sciences, 14200 Shady Grove Road, Rockville, Maryland 20850; http://www.hgsi.com.

■ A distinguished scientist, William A. Haseltine founded Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) to sequence the DNA in human genes, boasting that his activities would lead to the immediate development of an array of new drugs for treating diseases. A controversial figure within both the scientific community and the biotechnology industry, Haseltine made enemies everywhere. Known for his grand schemes, outspoken arrogance, and huge ego, he nevertheless catalyzed a major shift within the biotech industry by demonstrating that there was money to be made in the sale of biological information.


Growing up with three siblings at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the Mojave Desert, where his father worked as a physicist, William Haseltine was one of the first infants to be saved from pneumonia by penicillin. He survived a serious heart condition as a child and witnessed his mother's struggles with illness and manic depression; he decided to become a doctor and cure disease. An outstanding student, he planned on attending Harvard Medical School but decided to go into research instead. As a graduate student at Harvard he worked with the Nobel laureates James Watson and Walter Gilbert. As a postdoctoral fellow Haseltine worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the Nobel laureate David Baltimore studying retroviruses with RNA rather than DNA as their genetic material.

Haseltine moved to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard in 1976, where he worked with Robert Gallo on a human leukemia retrovirus. Along with Gallo and others Haseltine suggested that AIDS was caused by a retrovirus; he then created and headed a new department—the Division of Human Retrovirology—devoted to its study. Haseltine was soon engrossed in an intense scientific race to discover the manner in which the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) destroyed the human immune system. His laboratory worked on the first protease inhibitors for treating AIDS and assembled the genomic sequence of HIV. A Harvard professor who served on Haseltine's tenure committee told Fortune 's David Stipp, "Bill has a rough, tough, in-your-face personality, and sometimes he operates at the outer edge of acceptable behavior. But you have to take your hat off to him for his sheer volume of accomplishment" (June 25, 2001).


Dissatisfied with the meager financial rewards of academia, Haseltine began founding biotechnology companies in 1981. Convinced that only he saw the true potential of the new genomic sciences, Haseltine eventually started up Human Genome Sciences with J. Craig Venter in 1992. As the two men hated each other, HGSI's structure was unusual and awkward: Venter headed the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the nonprofit research branch of HGSI, while Haseltine headed the for-profit side of the company. The plan was for TIGR to begin sequencing the human genome and sell its data to HGSI, which would then resell the data to pharmaceutical companies—the operation was the first major effort to isolate thousands of human genes and determine the proteins made by each gene. Haseltine and Venter believed that their comprehensive approach would be much faster and cheaper than the conventional method of looking for individual disease-causing genes.

Stipp described Haseltine and Venter's relationship as "Godzilla vs. King Kong" (June 25, 2001). Haseltine's goals were to discover new human genes that would lead to the prediction, detection, and treatment of human disease and to develop patentable products. Venter was most interested in publishing his data in academic journals. Just months after establishing the partnership, Haseltine set up his own DNA-sequencing program at HGSI. His relationship with Venter formally ended in 1997.

In 1993 HGSI sold its database of 100,000 gene fragments to SmithKline Beecham (later GlaxoSmithKline) for $125 million, enabling HGSI to go public and raise an additional $34 million. The fact that a biotech company could make money selling information rather than producing a commodity shook the industry. Other companies were soon following HGSI's model. When Stipp asked Haseltine to describe the purpose of his William A. Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and the Arts, Hazeltine quipped, "To help create more people like me" (June 25, 2001).


Although Haseltine claimed to have isolated 95 percent of all human genes, he—and many others—greatly underestimated the difficulties of sifting through those genes in order to identify the very few that might be used as targets for new drugs. Furthermore Haseltine's plan was risky: unlike most biotech firms that licensed their discoveries to pharmaceutical companies, Haseltine wanted HGSI to develop, manufacture, and market its own protein-based drugs—which were cloned from either "good" human proteins or antibodies that could attack "bad" disease-causing proteins. Haseltine reasoned that because such drugs were naturally occurring and presumably nontoxic, they could be developed and hustled through the approval process and into the marketplace much more quickly than conventional chemical drugs. However, protein drugs had to be injected rather than taken orally, limiting the potential market.

Haseltine began patenting human genomic sequences that had the potential for medical use. He formed partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies and garnered a reputation for giving brilliant presentations to venture capitalists. Between June 1999 and December 2000 HGSI raised $1.8 billion and acquired Principia Pharmaceuticals, a company with a promising new form of drug delivery.

HGSI later began working on drugs to fight anthrax and other bioterrorist threats. Such drugs did not require human trials and could be stockpiled by the government prior to approval. According to Stipp, some analysts—as well as Haseltine himself—were predicting that Haseltine could become "genomics' first billionaire" and "the Bill Gates of biology" (June 25, 2001). Haseltine told Forbes magazine, "We are doing our best to get as many drugs for the biggest possible markets to the clinic as soon as possible. We hope to be the next Amgen" (November 24, 2003).

Yet between 2000 and 2003 HGSI lost $700 million. No HGSI drug had reached the market, although the most advanced had entered clinical trials. By March 2004 HGSI stock was trading at $11, down from more than $100 in 2000.


In a 2004 interview Haseltine told the CNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan, "I'm more of a scientist" (March 25, 2004); he had just announced that HGSI was dropping most of its early-phase drugs and planned to cut 20 percent of its workforce. He further announced that he intended to retire later in 2004. He told Ratigan, "It's time to bring in management and leadership that has the skills and experience in taking drugs to patients through the marketplace. It's time to get real professional management in this company" (March 25, 2004).

sources for further information

Cohen, Jon, "Consulting Biotech's Oracle," Technology Review , October 2001, pp. 70–75.

Haseltine, William, "Human Genome Sciences—Chmn. & CEO Interview," by Dylan Ratigan, CNBC/Dow Jones Business Video, March 25, 2004.

Langreth, Robert, "Beyond Talk," Forbes , November 24, 2003, pp. 72–75.

Stipp, David, "He's Brilliant, He's Swaggering—and He May Soon Be Genomics' First Billionaire," Fortune , June 25, 2001, pp. 100–106.

—Margaret Alic

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