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Monday, 1 April 2019

Developing Interferon: a case study

Manchester Institute of Innovation Research Seminar Series 2018 - 19

Event Time
1 Apr 15:45 - 1 Apr 17:00
Event Location
Room 9.041 Alliance Manchester Business School, Booth Street West, Manchester M15 6PB
Event Type

This talk will be delivered by Dr Carsten Timmermann. He will discuss the commodification of the biologically produced drug interferon, marketed by Hoffmann La Roche (short: Roche) as Roferon A in 1986. He suggests that interferon provides us with a case study allowing us to take a closer look at cancer research undertaken by pharmaceutical companies, the impact of molecular biology on cancer therapy, and the relationships between biotech start-ups and established pharmaceutical firms. Drawing extensively on materials from the Roche company archives, my paper traces the trajectory from observed phenomenon (viral interference) to product (Roferon A). Roche embraced molecular biology in the late 1960s to prepare for the moment when the patents on some of its bestselling drugs were going to expire.

The company funded two basic science institutes to gain direct access to talents and scientific leads. These investments, he argues, were crucial for Roche’s success with recombinant interferon, along with more mundane, technical and regulatory know-how held at Roche’s Nutley (New Jersey) base. The paper analyses the development process (the D in R&D), which was necessary to scale up the production sufficiently for clinical trials following the successful cloning the interferon gene. Using Alfred Chandler’s concept of ‘organizational capabilities’, he argues that the process is better described as ‘mobilisation’ than as ‘translation’.