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In Pursuit of Unicorns: A Journey through 50 Years of Biotechnology

Subject Area(s):  BiotechnologyGeneral Interest TitlesHistory of Science

By Tim Harris

Download a Free Excerpt from In Pursuit of Unicorns: A Journey through 50 Years of Biotechnology:

Chapter 1: The Beginnings

Available for pre-order on Amazon and Oxford University Press.

Due September 17, 2024 • 479 pages, illustrated (34 color and 5 B&W), index
Hardcover •
ISBN  978-1-621824-98-5

  •     Description    
  •     Contents    


Modern biotechnology—genetic engineering and cell manipulation—originated with the 1973 demonstration that genes from different organisms could be recombined and propagated in Escherichia coli. More than 50 years on, biotech is now a science that defines the 21st century. While still a young scientist, Tim Harris committed himself to this emerging industry. Now an accomplished investigator who became an astute, seasoned, and successful biotech business executive, he has written a captivating memoir chronicling the birth and maturation of the industry that now touches everyone’s lives. He combines accounts of scientific successes and failures with a personal story of ambition, challenge, and discovery. From the pioneering early days of gene cloning and monoclonal antibodies to the current cutting-edge advancements in cell therapy, gene editing, and personalized medicine, Harris provides a candidly honest insider’s view of biotech’s remarkable evolution and its profound impact on health care. His story is rich in detail about the accomplishments, struggles, and triumphs played out in the laboratories and boardrooms of the many different companies set up to exploit the technology, and the often colourful personalities involved. It is a fascinating blend of science, business, and ethics. Harris’s reflections on the complexities that come with rapid technological progress, and the responsibilities of scientists in shaping the future, are thought-provoking and timely.

Tim Harris’s story is one of passion, resilience, and an unwavering commitment from those involved to making a difference. His book is a compelling read for working scientists (especially early- and mid-career academic and industry researchers wondering how to apply their research to human health), biotechnology entrepreneurs and investors, and anyone fascinated by how profoundly biotechnology has changed our world and where it is leading us in the future.

Advance Praise for In Pursuit of Unicorns:

Unicorns is a new bible for the history of the biotechnology industry. In addition to a remarkable survey of the many biotech stories over the years, Harris also provides important perspective on all the needed elements to build great companies and deliver disruptive innovation to patients.”

John Maraganore, CEO and Principal, JMM Innovations, LLC; Founding CEO, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

“Tim Harris was born to write this book—a fascinating one-man oral history of the biotechnology industry told by an industry insider with authority, verve, and wit. Highly recommended!”

Kevin Davies, author, Editing Humanity and Cracking the Genome

“For those who have followed from the outside the spectacular growth of the biotech industry, Tim Harris provides a vivid account from the inside—the people, the science, the finance, the patent disputes, and of course the patients are all deftly woven into a compelling narrative of this magnificent episode in medical history.”

Nicholas Wade, science journalist for Nature, Science, and The New York Times

Unicorns takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the beginnings of recombinant DNA technology to today's cutting-edge science and novel therapies. Few people have been part of this extraordinary expedition the way the author has and no one has shared his experiences in such a lucid and captivating style.”

Stelios Papadopoulos, ex-Chairman of Biogen and a former biotech investment banker with SG Cowen and PaineWebber

About the Author

Dr. Tim Harris is a molecular biologist and biochemist. He started work in the biotech industry almost at its inception. He began his career in 1974, working on animal viruses, and was one of the first scientists to join the U.K. biotech company Celltech in 1981. Subsequently he spent nearly five years at Glaxo Group Research (now GSK) in the United Kingdom as Director of Biotechnology.

Tim has founded several biotech companies since moving to the United States in 1993 to be head of R&D at Sequana Therapeutics, a genomics company in San Diego. He founded and ran SGX Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Eli Lilly) and served briefly as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Director of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) at SAIC-Frederick, Inc. in Maryland. Latterly, Tim moved to Biogen as SVP Translational Medicine in 2011, before joining the haematology spinout Bioverativ, as head of R&D in March 2017 before the company was acquired by Sanofi.

Tim is presently a venture partner at SV Health Investors and actively works on behalf of several small biotechnology companies, some of which he founded. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed research papers and reviews and has written many commentaries for BioCentury and other industry magazines.


1 The Beginnings
2 The Second Wave
3 The Wave in the West
4 Monoclonal Antibodies
5 Antibodies Become Blockbuster Drugs
6 Pharma, Biotech, and Common Diseases
7 Genetics and Genomics
8 DNA Sequencing and the Human Genome
9 Functional Genomics
10 Structural Genomics
11 Drugs for Rare Diseases
12 Antisense and RNAi
13 Gene Therapy
14 Cell Therapy
15 Gene Editing
16 Vaccines
17 Fortunes and Unicorn
18 The Essence of Biotech
Biotechnology Product Time Line
Relevant Nobel Prizes
Recommended Reading
Photo section