Dennis A. Carson

Born: May 31, 1936 | New York , NY, US
Photograph of Dennis Carson

Detail of Image, CHF Collections, Photograph by Carol Sonstein, San Diego Business Journal

Dennis A. Carson graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1962, where he had devoted himself to the school's science-based curriculum. After receiving a BA in history from Haverford College, he earned in MD from Columbia University. He then worked for labs at the National Institute of Health, the University of California, San Diego, and the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. While at Scripps, Carson co-founded Vical a biotech company that develops DNA vaccines. He also founded other drug-development companies such as Triangle Pharmaceuticals, Dynamax Inc., and Salmedix. In 1990, he became director of UCSD's Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging. He left in 2003 to head Moores UCSD Cancer Research Center, where he has two drugs in development. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0329
No. of pages: 42
Minutes: 116

Interview Sessions

Ted Everson
12 March 2006
San Diego, California

Abstract of Interview

Dennis A. Carson begins the interview with a discussion about growing up in the Atomic Age, moving between the boroughs of New York City. After showing an early interest in chemistry, Carson attended Stuyvesant High School, a well-known school with a science-based curriculum. Upon graduating in 1962, Carson decided to attend Haverford College, a Quaker school outside of Philadelphia, hoping to balance his science background with a degree in the liberal arts. While there, he received a research grant from Smith, Kline, and French to study trichimonas and taught in Haverford's laboratories. He earned a BA in history and returned to New York City to attend Columbia University's medical school, where he worked in immunologist Elliott F. Osserman's lab experimenting with tissue cultures. After earning his MD, Carson completed his internship and residency in California before joining the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Associate Training Program to defer the Vietnam War draft. While at the NIH, Carson worked under Henry Metzger radiolabeling immunoglobulins and assigning affinity labels. In 1974, Carson left to work in Jay Seegmiller's lab at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). There, his research centered around ADA deficiency's effect on the immune system. Carson continued this research as an assistant member of the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. He spent his time developing, synthesizing, manufacturing, and running trials for Leustatin, a drug for hairy cell leukemia that was approved in 1993. While at Scripps, Carson co-founded Vical a biotech company that develops DNA vaccines. Over the next decade, he founded other drug-development companies such as Triangle Pharmaceuticals, Dynamax Inc., and Salmedix. When Jay Seegmiller retired from UCSD's Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging in 1990, Carson took his place as director—splitting his time between research and fund-raising. He left in 2003 to head Moores UCSD Cancer Research Center, where he has two drugs in development. Next, Carson describes the numerous awards and appointments he has received, including nomination to the National Academy of Sciences, a rare feat for a doctor. Carson concludes the interview by discussing San Diego's biotech community and his predictions and concerns for its future. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1966 Haverford College BA History
1970 Columbia University MD

Professional Experience

University of California, San Diego

1970 to 1972
Resident, Internal Medicine
1974 to 1975
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Medicine
1988 to 1990
Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine
1990 to 2007
Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine
1990 to 2003
Director, The Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging

National Institutes of Health

1972 to 1974
Clinical Associate, Section on Chemical Immunology, Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch, National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Disease

Scripps Research Institute

1976 to 1980
Assistant Member, Department of Clinical Research
1980 to 1986
Associate Member, Department of Basic and Clinical Research
1986 to 1990
Member, Department of Basic and Clinical Research

University of California, San Diego Medical Center

2003 to 2007
Director, Moores Cancer Center
2003 to 2007
Chugai Pharmaceutical Chair in Cancer
2003 to 2007
Associate Dean for Health Sciences

Honors

Year(s) Award
1966

Phi Beta Kappa

1966

Cope Fellowship

1970

Alpha Omega Alpha

1987

Lee C. Howley, Sr., Prize for Arthritis Research

1995

Elected member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1995

ScD (Honorary), University of Aix-Marseille

2002

International Rheumatology Award, Japan Rheumatism Association

2003

Mayo-Soley Award, Western Association of Physicians

2003

Elected member, National Academy of Sciences

2004

American Association for Cancer Research-Bruce F. Cain Memorial Award

2005

Member, Institute of Medicine

2005

Chester Stock Award, Memorial Sloan-Kittering Cancer Center

2005

BIOCOM Life Sciences Heritage Award, BIOCOM and the Chemical Heritage Foundation

Table of Contents

Childhood and Early Education
1

Growing up in New York. Early interest in science. Brother and parents. Attending Stuyvesant High School. Working in the New York Public Library's patent office.

College Education
8

Studying history at Haverford College. Lab work at the Smith, Kline, and French factory. Medical school at Columbia University. Working with Elliott F. Osserman on methods to create tissue cultures.

Postdoctorate work
13

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for internship and residency. Working at the Salk Institute under Martin G. Weigert, radiolabeling immunoglobulins. Two-year commitment to National Institutes of Health, studying IgE receptors in Henry Metzger's lab. Return to UCSD for post-doc work with Jarvis E. Seegmiller on ADA deficiencies. Fellowships to research rheumatism and leukemia lymphoma.

Career at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation
19

Working with Ernest Beutler while developing 2-CdA. Hairy cell leukemia trials. Thoughts on drug development. Founding Vical with friend Karl Y. Hostetler. Naked DNA research.

Director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UCSD
24

Background on the company. Lab research and endowment program. Organized research units.

Director of the Moore Cancer Center
27

History of the Center. Comprehensive cancer centers. Importance of interdisciplinary research units.

Biotech companies founded by Carson
29

Triangle Pharmaceuticals. Dynavax Technologies. Salmedix, Inc. The Orphan Drug Act.

Accomplishments
32

Election to the National Academy of Sciences. Receiving the Arthritis Foundation Lee C. Howley, Sr. , prize, the American Association Cancer Research Bruce Kane Memorial Award, and the BIOCOM Life Sciences Award. Importance of educational programs.

The Biotech Industry
34

San Diego biotech community. Government regulation and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Influencing policy.

Notes
37
Index
38

About the Interviewer

Ted Everson

Ted Everson, the director of clinical communications at Vital Issues in Medicine (VIM), a medical education company, earned a PhD in history and philosophy of science and technology from the University of Toronto and an MS in medical genetics from the University of British Columbia. During his tenure at CHF he founded the biotechnology program, which included focused scholarship on industry development. He is the author of The Gene: A Historical Perspective (2007), “Genetic Engineering Methods” in The Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Technology (2004), and “Genetics and Molecular Biology” in History of the Exact Sciences and Mathematics (2002).