Scope and Content
Title: William J. Rutter Papers
Collection number: MSS 94-54
Extent: 13 cartons
University of California, San Francisco. Library. Archives and Special Collections.
San Francisco, California 94143-0840
Shelf location: For current information on the location of
these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Collection is open for research, except for Subgroup 5, which is restricted.
[Identification of item], William J. Rutter Papers, MSS 94-54, Archives & Special
Collections, UCSF Library & CKM
[This biographical statement is based primarily on information in
extensive interviews with Dr. Rutter conducted in 1992-1993. Editing in progress;
transcripts to be deposited in the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Archives, Special
Collections, UCSF Library.]
Born on August 28, 1928, William J. Rutter received a B.A. in Biochemistry from Harvard
University in 1949, after a year at Brigham Young University and a stint in the Navy. He
went on to get an M.S. in (?) from the University of Utah (1950) and a Ph.D. in (?) from
the University of Illinois (1952).
After post-doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin (1952-1954) and the Nobel
Institute in Sweden (1954-1955), Rutter joined the faculty at the University of Illinois
(1955-1963). In 1962-1963, he went to Stanford on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and then
returned to Illinois as a full professor for two years (1963-1965). He held a joint
professorship in genetics and biochemistry at the University of Washington from
1965-1968, before becoming Hertzstein Professor of Biochemistry and Chairman of the
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF in 1969.
Chairman of the department until 1982, Rutter became the Director of the Hormone Research
Institute at UCSF in 1983. In addition he held numerous extramural appointments,
including serving on advisory committees for various national and international
laboratories and scientific organizations. He also held offices in various professional
societies and served on a number of journal editorial boards. Rutter became an emeritus
professor in 1991.
Among Rutter's diverse research contributions are, discovery and characterization of the
three RNA polymerase transcription systems operating in eucaryotic gene expression,
cloning and structural and functional analysis of the insulin gene, nucleotide sequencing
of hepatitis B virus, and development (with Chiron corporation and Merck) of the first
commercial genetically engineered human vaccine, for hepatitis B.
Though an innovative researcher, Rutter is best known at UCSF for his leadership as
chairman and his encouragement of a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to
research. He transformed a mediocre department into a vital and groundbreaking research
facility that has become a foundation for the biotech industry centered in the San
Francisco Bay Area. Another of his contributions is the promotion of biotechnology and
the fostering of cooperative research efforts between industry and academia. In 1981, he
and two colleagues formed Chiron Corporation, where he remains as chairman of the board
Education and Early Career
Rutter became interested in parasitic diseases in high school after listening to his
grandfather's descriptions of the tropical diseases he had observed as a British Military
officer in India. He graduated from Harvard intending do go on to medical school, but
after auditing medical school classes at the University of Utah, he decided to
concentrate on the research sciences. He received a master's degree from Utah in 1950 and
then a Ph.D. in 1952 at the University of Illinois. At the University of Illinois, Rutter
completed a dissertation on galactosemia, a metabolic disease.
Rutter began his post-doctoral studies in enzyme chemistry with Henry Lardy at the
Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1952-54). An
interest in enzyme mechanism took him to Sweden for another year of post-doctoral work
with future Nobel Prize winner, Hugo Theorell at the Nobel Institute (1954-55).
Returning to the University of Illinois, Urbana 1955 to take a tenure track position in
the chemistry department(1955-65), Rutter continued his research on enzyme mechanism,
concentrating on aldolase. During the mid-1950's, he became interested in biological
problems and initiated studies of the regulation of RNA transcription. Fostering this
interest, Rutter went to Stanford in 1962 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and worked with
Clifford Grobstein, head of Biology, on embryonic development of the pancreas.
Returning to Illinois in 1965 with his new biological focus, Rutter found his position in
the chemistry department less attractive. In 1965, he accepted a professorship in the
Departments of Biochemistry and Genetics at the University of Washington (1965-69). He
chose Washington because of its strong genetics department and modest teaching load which
allowed him to concentrate on research. While continuing his work on defining the
molecular basis of the pancreatic system, he also began to focus on the mechanisms of DNA
transcription, using the simple eukaryotic systems (yeast) that the department, under
Herschel Roman, had developed.
University of California at San Francisco
In 1965 UCSF began attempts to recruit Rutter as chairman of the biochemistry department.
Worried that administrative duties would restrict his research, he hesitated for four
years. At the time, medical schools were not considered ideal settings to pursue research
in molecular biology. However, in the mid 1960's, Holly Smith, head of Medicine, J.
Englebert Dunphy, head of Surgery, and others decided to improve basic science at UCSF,
and saw Rutter as one who could lead this endeavor. Rutter was also attracted by a large
number of open positions in the department which would allow him to shape its direction.
Rutter finally accepted the chairmanship in 1969, committed to creating a eukaryotic
biology program based on cooperative multidisciplinary research. He had the department
renamed the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and began to recruit promising
researchers interested in a molecular approach using the latest technology. Gordon
Tomkins, recruited from the NIH in 1970 to be vice-chairman, was in partnership with
Rutter, a vital force in restructuring the department until his untimely death in 1977.
Rutter and his large laboratory group conducted a diverse research program initially
centered on gene structure and expression. Among the highlights are the cloning of the
rat insulin gene in 1977, conducted against the backdrop of the recombinant DNA
controversy and a fierce race with other laboratories. In 1977, Rutter and Herbert Boyer
(of UCSF), co-inventor with Stanley Cohen of recombinant DNA technology, were asked to
testify before the U.S. Senate regarding alleged misuse of a plasmid used in the cloning
He and his group later studied the structure of genes for other peptide hormones,
including several growth factors, glucagon, and somatostatin. In the early 1980's, his
laboratory turned to the problem of the regulation of gene expression in specific
differentiated cells. Genetic engineering techniques were also applied to the analysis of
hepatitis B virus. Collaborating with a group at the University of Washington, Rutter and
coworkers at UCSF and Chiron cloned the gene for the outer viral coat, the component of
the virus that induces an immune response. Largely because of the promise the hepatitis
work had for the development of a vaccine, Rutter and two colleagues founded Chiron
Corp., in Emeryville, CA, in 1981.
Hormone Research Institute
Suggestions of conflict of interest due to of his ties with the biotechnology industry
prompted Rutter to step down as chairman in 1982. In 1983 he became director of the
Hormone Research Institute (HRI), one of UCSF's independent research units. Succeeding
Choh Hao Li, as director, he reoriented research to a molecular approach based on
advanced technology. He relinquished the directorship 1989, but remained a member of the
institute and head of a lab group. He retired from the university in 1994.
Biotech (Hana, Chiron, etc.)
Rutter played an active role in the development of the Biotech Industry. His most
successful business venture was the establishment of Chiron, founded by Rutter and his
former Stanford colleague, Ed Penhoet, in 1981. Chiron became one of the major
biotechnology firms in the San Francisco Bay Region: In 1991 Chiron merged with Cetus,
another local biotech firm. Rutter's success with Chiron placed him on a list of
"Molecular Millionaires" issued by
Genetic Engineering News in 1987, which
reported him as holding Chiron stock worth over 20 million dollars. Rutter has been
Chairman of the Board since the company's founding.
In addition to his Chiron activities, Rutter attempted in 1981 to help establish the
Harbor Bay Isle bio-tech business park in Alameda, CA. Rutter's first Bio-tech venture,
with his partners Michael Urdea and C.K. Chang, was the short lived company called
Biopolymer. Rutter also served on the boards of Meridian Instruments (1982-1988) and HANA
Biologics (1980 to 1983), which absorbed Biopolymer in 1981. Since 1995 he has served on
the Board of Directors of Ciby-Geigy and the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie
Institution of Washington. He acted as a consultant to Abbott Laboratories (1960-1975),
Eli Lilly Co. (1977-1980) and Merck and Co. (1977-1981).
Rutter also served as Treasurer of the American Society of Biological Chemists
(1970-1976), as President of the Pacific Slope Biochemical Conference (1975-76), and as
President of the American Society for Developmental Biology (1975-1976). Elected to the
National Academy of Sciences in 1984, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in
1987, Rutter also served on Advisory committees for National Laboratories (Los Alamos,
Oak Ridge, the Naval Biosciences Center, and Scripps), International Laboratories
(Hagedorn Research Laboratory of the Nordisk Labrotorium, Zentrum fur Molekulare
Biologie, and International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and
Foundations (Cystic Fibrosis, March of Dimes, Keystone Life Science Study Center, and
California Council on Science and Technology). Service on Boards or Committees also links
him to the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation.
As of 1995 Rutter had well over 300 publications to his name.
Scope and Content
The Rutter Collection consists of 12 cartons and 1 manuscript box containing files
primarily documenting his association with the University of California at San Francisco
(1969-1994) as professor of biochemistry, department chair and lab director including
associated professional commitments: membership in professional organizations, work on
advisory boards, and consulting. Some material on his involvement in the Biotech industry
is included, although there is little or no evidence of Chiron activities. Chiron was
co-founded by Rutter and Edward Penhoet in 1981. The papers include administrative and
professional correspondence, subject files, some financial and personnel documents,
minutes and agendas, conference materials and other materials that he produced during his
career at UCSF.
The collection does not include any documentation of actual research, i.e., lab notebooks
or experimental data, though administrative files on MUAs, grants, and patents are a part
of the collection. Photocopies of some experimental data are included in the Patent
files, but the actual lab notebooks apparently no longer exist. There are also extensive
correspondence files covering the exchange of scientific information and materials.
The papers in this collection were all created or collected by Rutter in the course of
his career, but they come from various offices; having moved with him from the Department
of Biochemistry and Biophysics to the Hormone Research Institute. Sally Hughes, a
historian with the History of Health Sciences Department at UCSF arranged for the
donation of the material as a part of her oral history research project with Rutter. The
majority of the records came to Special Collections from the Hormone Research Institute
office by way of Dr. Hughes. Additional records were transferred directly from the
Hormone Research Lab.
The collection is organized into five subgroups. Each subgroup is arranged by series as
necessary. The first covers Rutter's activities as Hertzstein Professor of Biochemistry
(1969-1991), including his administrative duties as head of the Department of
Biochemistry and Biophysics (1969-1981) and as director of the Hormone Research Institute
(1982-1989). Rutter's filling system maintained no distinction between his activities.
The second subgroup documents Rutter's wider involvement with the UC system and UCSF
(particularly membership on the School of Medicine Executive Committee and other
The third includes materials on his various Professional Commitments: membership in
professional organizations, service on editorial boards and as a manuscript and grant
reviewer, consultant work and service on a variety of advisory boards.
The fourth subgroup documents his Business Commitments.
Patent materials form the fifth subgroup. These materials are preserved for their
historic value, but are temporarily restricted for sensitive legal reasons.
Folders are usually arranged alphabetically within their series or subseries, exceptions
include Travel which is arranged chronologically, and a part of Correspondence which is
Title: Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics: Annual Reports (1970- )
This collection contains photocopies
of the Annual reports of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics beginning
with Rutter's chairmanship. Of special interest would be the Chairman's Report
and the research activities of individual lab groups.
Title: Rutter Oral History
being edited, when completed a copy will be available as part of the Molecular
Biology and Biotechnology Collection in the Archives.