Biochemist May Return To Harvard

Gilbert Available After Leaving Biogen

Nobel prize-winning biochemist Walter Gilbert '53, who three years ago resigned from his post as a Harvard professor to head a major biotechnology firm, may return to the University, according to both Gilbert and Biology Department officials.

"There is a lot of interest in seeing him return," said Chairman of the Cellular and Developmental Biology Department Richard M. Losick. Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence "has been in contact with him, and in a few weeks the situation will be a lot clearer," he added.

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Spence was unavailable for comment this week, and other University Hall administrators declined to comment on the situation.

Gilbert stepped down from his post as chairman and chief operating officer at Biogen Corporation--a Switzerland based biotechnology firm which he helped found in 1979--last December, and since then has declined to publicly state what his future plans may be.


In a telephone interview this week, however, he said that he may return to Harvard, and that his plans should be firmed up within a month.

He added, though, that there has been no formal offer from the University to lure him back.

According to Losick, although there is much interest in seeing Gilbert return, "there are a lot of questions of what he would need and what it would be possible to offer him."

Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin '52 declined to comment on whether or hot the University is attempting to lure Gilbert back, but did say that people with Gilbert's "abilty and ingenuity are desirable to have around.

"Nobel Prize winning scientists are always nice to have around the University," he added.

Gilbert was awarded awarded a 1980 Nobel Prize for his research on the structure of USA.

Martin added that there is "no standard set of circumstances or procedeures" which can be followed in re-offering Gilbert tenure because of the special nature of his case.

While he said that matters such as these are negotiated through Spence's office, he stressed that before any appointment can be made it must pass through a number of channels, including approval from President Bok.

According to Losick, Gilbert's return would have no immediate impact on the number of tenure slots in the Biology department.

Although he completed all his research at Harvard last summer and no longer has a laboratory at the University, there is enough room in the Biology labs to accomadate his return, Losick said.

Currently, Gilbert's only association with the University is as a senior fellow in the Society of Fellows, a Harvard organization designed to foster the work of young scholars.

Gilbert is still a member of Biogen's scientific board, but has been replaced as chief executive officer by another company official.

According to a statement released by Biogen when he resigned in December, Gilbert said that Biogen has several products in development and "this is an appropriate time for me to step aside and for Biogen to seek new management."

"His exit was not caused by a significant problems in the company," Peter Feinstein, a Biogen spokesman said in December. "We believe that Biogen is in a strong position in terms of products and cash reserves," he added.

While company officials said that the resignation was unrelated to Biogen's financial situation, there reportedly have been concerns at the board level about the company's financial losses, estimated by analysts at about $14 million