The Charles Weissmann Biogen Collection

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The Charles Weissmann Biogen Collection is one of the projects being undertaken as part of the NHPRC Basic Processing grant. Per grant parameters, the collection will be processed at the series level, incorporating the approach suggested by Greene and Meissner in More Products, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing (American Archivist, Vol 68 (2005) p208-263).

Charles Weissmann was born on October 14, 1931 in Budapest Hungary and obtained his MD in 1956 and Ph.D in Organic Chemistry in 1961 from Zurich University. Dr. Weissmann was director of the Institute for Molecular Biology in Zurich and President of the Roche Research Foundation. In 1978, Charles Weissmann co-founded the biotech company Biogen in Geneva. Dr. Weissmann resigned from the Biogen Science Board in 1986 and the company merged with IDEC in 2003. He is currently Chairman of the Department of Infectology, Scripps Research Institute, Florida.

Dr. Weissmann is perhaps best known for the first cloning and expression of interferon and his contributions to the unraveling of the molecular genetics of neurogenerative prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. He has received many awards, notably the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize in 2003 for his work with the purification, characterization, and cloning of human interferon-alpha.

When the Weissmann Collection was reviewed prior to processing, it became clear that there were numerous preservation issues that would have to be dealt with. As is often the case with organizational records, the documents were left for years in a damp basement. As a result, almost every document emitted a musty odor and all of the staples, paper clips, and metal binder fasteners were rusty and had to be removed. Additionally, the vast majority of the collection was unfoldered, so rehousing was a necessary step to processing the papers. At the beginning of the processing, there were 57 boxes and 4 three-ring binders outside of the boxes.
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Rusted fasteners and other material removed during processing

I began by opening all the boxes and loosely grouping the materials. Although some boxes were labeled, these often proved to be misleading. Files labeled “BIOGEN BOARD DOCUMENTS” often contained research files, patent application and parts of what would become the third series, Science Board documents. I believe that one of the reasons for the disarray is that the documents had been sorted and some removed for litigation as evidenced by notes such as "Documents removed by Jim Haley & Gerald Flattmann→4/18/97" and "BIOGEN v. Genentech/Laroche litigation."

After a few false starts, a final series order was formed:

1. Biogen Patents (1979-1985)
2. Biogen Board of Director Documents (1977-1986)
3. Biogen Science Board Documents (1978-1986)
4. Project Reports (1978-1986)
5. γ (Gamma) Project (1983-1986)
6. Photographs (1986)
7. Research Subject Files (1981-1986)

In the end, 173.5 hours were spent processing this collection (including authoring a finding aid), which had a final total of 57 boxes (24 linear feet). The time was primarily spent on removing rusted staples and creating microfolders to stabilize the documents. The Weissmann Biogen files are now open for research and we hope they will provide a unique insight into the origins the biotechnology industry.

- Amy Driscoll, Project Archivist

Availability of Material

For specific information on the availability of materials or to arrange an appointment to use the Archives, please contact (516)367-8414 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please consult our Permissions & Copyright Policies for any materials you wish to use.

This collection was processed under the grant History and Development of Molecular Biology: New Sources through the Hidden Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Collections (1890-1910), (NAS11-RB-50178-11). Funding provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. nhprc-2-m