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Register of the William J. Rutter Papers
MSS 94-54  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Statement
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Collections

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William J. Rutter Papers
    Collection number: MSS 94-54
    Extent: 13 cartons
    Repository: 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.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research, except for Subgroup 5, which is restricted.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William J. Rutter Papers, MSS 94-54, Archives & Special Collections, UCSF Library & CKM

    Biographical Statement

    [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 of directors.

    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 process.
    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 committee work).
    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 arranged hierarchically.

    Related Collections

    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

    Currently being edited, when completed a copy will be available as part of the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Collection in the Archives.