Gerald Weissmann

Born: August 7, 1930 | Vienna, AT
Photograph of Gerald Weissman

Gerald Weissmann was born in Austria, but when young, he and his family fled the Nazis, eventually ending up in New York City. After earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Columbia College, Weissmann, entered medical school at New York University. Having opted for a research career, he completed his residency at Mount Sinai Hospital and became chief resident at Bellevue Hospital. In the mid-1960s, Weissmann, along with close friend, Alec D. Bangham, discovered liposomes, and in 1982 founded The Liposome Company, which received FDA approval for the drugs Abelcet and Myocet. In speaking about the origins of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Program, Weissmann contrasts the Pew funding with larger funding bodies like the NIH, Weissmann, extolling the benefits of funding creative young scientists.

Access This Interview

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0371
No. of pages: 58
Minutes: 154

Interview Sessions

Arthur Daemmrich
8 February 2007
The Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Abstract of Interview

Gerald Weissmann's oral history begins with a discussion of his family and childhood in Vienna, Austria. While still very young, Weissmann and his family fled the Nazi Anschluss. After their journey from Vienna to Italy, Paris, and London, and before finally reaching New York, Weissmann developed a political awareness at a young age. Throughout his youth in New York City, Weissmann's father, also a rheumatologist, exerted a positive influence on Gerald's own career path. Additionally, Weissmann was influenced and mentored by his father's friend and colleague, the famed pathologist, Paul D. Klemperer. After earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Columbia College, Weissmann, entered medical school at New York University [NYU], citing his love of science as a primary reason for following such a career path. Following an internship year at Mount Sinai Hospital, Weissmann entered the army and, while stationed at Fort Dix Army Hospital in New Jersey, he published his first scientific paper. Following his time in the army, Weissmann faced a decision between following a purely clinical career in rheumatology, like his father, or an academic one, focused on medicine and rheumatology research. Having opted for the research career, Weissmann continued his residency program at Mount Sinai Hospital and became chief resident at Bellevue Hospital under Lewis Thomas. Concurrent with his residency, Weissmann undertook research at NYU with Severo Ochoa. After becoming an Instructor in Medicine at NYU, Weissmann traveled to the Strangeways Research Laboratory at the University of Cambridge to collaborate with Dame Honor Fell studying the effects of excess Vitamin A on bone rudiment and cartilage. At approximately the same time, Weissmann's research transitioned from studying lysosomes into studying lipids. In the mid-1960s, Weissmann, along with close friend, Alec D. Bangham, discovered liposomes and developed a new field of research. In 1982 Weissmann and E. C. [Jack] Whitehead founded The Liposome Company, which received FDA approval for the drugs Abelcet and Myocet. In this oral history, Weissmann also discusses, in great detail, the origins of the Pew Biomedical Scholars Program. Although he heaped most praise on Joshua Lederberg for the program, Weissmann also described his influence and that of other early Advisory Board members. Contrasting the Pew funding for biomedical scientists with larger funding bodies like the NIH, Weissmann extolled the benefits of funding creative young scientists. In conclusion, Weissmann discusses his own popular scientific writings and larger issues in the history and sociology of science.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
2016 Columbia University BA Fine Arts
2016 New York University MD Medicine

Professional Experience

Mount Sinai Hospital of New York

1954 to 1955
Intern
1957 to 1958
Assistant Resident in Medicine

New York University

1958 to 1959
Fellow, Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation, Departments of Biochemistry and Medicine (Mentor: Severo Ochoa)
1959 to 1960
Research Assistant, Department of Medicine

Bellevue Hospital

1959 to 1960
Chief Resident in Medicine

New York University School of Medicine

1959 to 1961
Instructor in Medicine
1962 to 1965
Assistant Professor of Medicine
1966 to 1970
Associate Professor of Medicine
1970
Professor of Medicine
1970 to 1973
Director, Division of Cell Biology
1973 to 2000
Director, Division of Rheumatology
2000
Director of Biotechnology Study Center
2003
Research Professor of Medicine
2003
Professor of Medicine Emeritus

Strangeways Research Laboratory

1960 to 1961
USPHS Special Research Fellow, Department of Biophysics

Pfizer

1972
Consultant, Inflammation and Arthritis

Ethicon Company

1973 to 1976
Scientific Advisory Board

BioResponse

1982 to 1986
Scientific Advisory Board

The Liposome Company

1982 to 2000
Director, Co-Founder (with E. C. Whitehead) and Chair, Scientific Advisory Board

Honors

Year(s) Award
1966

Author of "Citation Classic" (Lysosomes and Joint Disease)

1972

Allesandro Robecchi International Prize for Rheumatology, Aix-lex-Bains

1973 to 1974

Guggenheim Fellow

1974

Author of "Citation Classic" (Cyclic Nucleotides and Neutrophils)

1978

University of Bologna Nine-Hundreth Anniversary Medal (with Lewis Thomas and others)

1980

Gruber Award for Cancer Research (with Emil Frei, III)

1980

Solomon A. Berson Medical Alumni Achievement Award in Clinical Sciences

1981

Bunim Lecturer and Medalist, American Rheumatism Association

1982

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1987

National Institutes of Health Merit Award

1987

Rockefeller Foundation Residency at Bellagio

1988

Marine Biological Laboratory Centennial Award for Leadership in Biomedical Sciences (with DeWitt Stetten and James Wyngaarden)

1990

Hiram Maxim Award for Scientific Communication

1992

Distinguished Investigator Award, American College of Rheumatology

1993

Charles Plotz Award, Arthritis Foundation of New York

1997

Paul Klemperer Medal, New York Academy of Medicine

1998

Rockefeller Foundation Residency at Bellagio

2001

Paul Klemperer Award & Lecture, American College of Rheumatology

2001

"Research Hero" Award, Arthritis foundation Fiftieth Anniversary

2002

Academia Nazionale die Lincei

2005

Presidential Gold Medal, American College of Rheumatology

2007

Chairman, Prix Galien USA

Table of Contents

Childhood
1

Fleeing Vienna, Austria with family after the 1938 Nazi Anschluss. Traveling to the United States via Italy and England. Political awareness at a young age.

Education and Interests in Science
4

Experiences with classical education and balancing interests in the humanities and sciences. Experiences which pushed scientific interests ahead. Influence of Weissmann's father and his fellow rheumatologists. Columbia College. Science in the family.

Medical and Scientific Training
8

Medical School at New York University. Ivy League quotas for Jewish Students. Education and training interlude in the Army. Biochemistry work with Severo Ochoa. Chief Residency and lab work at Bellevue Hospital under Lewis Thomas. Research at Cambridge University with Dame Honor Fell.

Professor of Medicine
14

Professorship at NYU. Research transition to lipids. Collaboration with Alec D. Bangham. Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Relationship between medical research, pharmaceutical companies, and advertising.

The Liposome Company
24

Co-Founding with E. C. (Jack) Whitehead. Experiences with non-academic drug assembly. Balancing with academic research. The Federal Drug Administration

The Pew Biomedical Sciences Program
28

Importance of the advisory committee in shaping the Scholar program. Influence of Joshua Lederberg. Contrasts with the National Institutes of Health. Balancing PhD scientists with MD scientists. The importance of the Human Genome Project on Pew funding and Pew Scholars.

Sociology of Science
39

Concerning Ludwig Fleck and Thomas S. Kuhn. Weissmann's popular scientific writings.

Index
48

About the Interviewer

Arthur Daemmrich

Arthur Daemmrich is an assistant professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School and a senior research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His research examines science, medicine, and the state, with a focus on advancing theories of risk and regulation through empirical research on the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical sectors. At HBS he also plays an active role in an interdisciplinary Healthcare Initiative, advancing scholarship and developing applied lessons for the business of creating and delivering health services and health-related technologies. Daemmrich was previously the director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He earned a PhD in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University in 2002 and has held fellowships at the Social Science Research Council/Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has published widely on pharmaceutical and chemical regulation, biotechnology business and policy, innovation, and history of science.