Charles Weissmann

Country of origin: Switzerland

Year came to U.S.: 1961

Education: MD and PhD in Organic Chemistry, Zürich University

Business: Biogen (1978)

Headquarters: Weston, MA

2021 revenue: $11.0 billion (Biogen)

Worldwide employment: 9,610 (Biogen)

Ranked 338 in the 2022 Fortune 500

  • Weissmann is a preeminent businessman and scientist. He was the first to clone alpha-interferon genes and made breakthroughs in treating several diseases.

  • He has won more than 20 professional awards.

Charles Weissmann is truly an international figure. A Hungarian-born Swiss, Weissmann was one of the founding scientists of Biogen in Geneva in 1978 and was instrumental in recruiting other prominent scientists to join the new company. He is a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), the Royal Society (U.K.) and the Orden Pour le Merite (Germany). He is also a man of letters. He has a PhD in organic chemistry plus six honorary doctorates. He is also a history-maker. He was the first to clone and express human alpha-interferon genes in E.coli, which can now be synthesized on an industrial scale for use as a medicine.

Weissmann studied at Zürich University obtaining degrees in both medicine and organic chemistry before moving to New York University School of Medicine. He turned his attention to the then-new field of molecular biology, becoming director of the Institute of Molecular Biology, University of Zürich, in 1967.

It was in this field that he became recognized as one of the most creative innovators. He was the first to clone alpha-interferon genes, explicate the life cycle of bacteriophages and regulate red blood cell components.

In 1978, he co-founded Biogen, one of the world’s first biotechnology companies. Within a few years of its founding, Biogen moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2003, Biogen merged with IDEC Pharmaceuticals, led by Ivor Royston.

It was also around this time that Weissmann again moved across the pond from the Department of Neurodegenerative Diseases at University College, London to head the Scripps Florida Department of Infectology, founded by fellow immigrant entrepreneur Ellen Browning Scripps. In welcoming him to Florida, Governor Jeb Bush hailed Weissmann as “a preeminent scientist.”

“We’re proud he will call our state home. His hiring is symbolic of the caliber of individuals we’ll recruit to Scripps Florida,” Bush said.

Weissmann has made breakthroughs in the study of diseases induced by prions (small infectious particles) that can affect both animals and humans, such as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Updated July 2022