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
2018 revenue: $13.5 billion
Worldwide employment: 7,800
Ranked 235 in the 2019 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. An 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 investigators. He was the first to clone alpha-interferon genes, elucidate 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. 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.
In recent years, Weissmann has made breakthroughs in the investigation of diseases induced by prions (small infectious particles) that affect animals, such as mad cow disease, and humans, such as Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.