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Professor Swartz received his first lessons in resourcefulness and persistence growing up on a farm in South Dakota. After earning a BS in Chemical Engineering with Highest Honors from S. Dak. School of Mines and Technology, he began his professional career with Union Oil Co. of CA in Casper, Wyoming. Serving in the Drilling, Reservoir Engineering, and Production Departments provided an appreciation of the complexity and importance of large scale energy technologies. That experience also strengthened his belief that biological technologies offered the power and versatility to better address evolving societal needs. The MIT graduate programs in chemical engineering (MS) and biochemical engineering (Dsc) helped strengthen his biological training while broadening an appreciation for this emerging field. Following a 3 month exchange visit to the Soviet Union, he gained additional experience at Eli Lilly and participated in the development of the first recombinant DNA pharmaceutical to be approved, rDNA insulin. After two years, he moved to Genentech to help establish their drug production capability, developing the fermentation process for their first product, rDNA growth hormone. After 17 years at Genentech in various line and project leadership positions, he joined the Stanford Chemical Engineering Department with a focus on an embryonic technology called cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS). Multiple technology breakthroughs from his lab motivated the founding of Sutro Biopharma which now has four promising anti-cancer drugs in clinical trials. A new company called Vaxcyte later spun out of Sutro to focus on complex human vaccines enabled by CFPS. Both companies are now publicly traded. Another company, GreenLight Biosciences, is focusing on inexpensive, large scale RNA production for use against agricultural pests. At Stanford, Professor Swartz is now focusing on expanding the basic capabilities of cell-free bioprocess while also developing technologies for targeted drug development, vaccines, circulating tumor cell assays, the carbon negative production of commodity biochemicals, and for economically attractive photosynthetic hydrogen production.
Program Overview The world we enjoy, including the oxygen we breathe, has been beneficially created by biological systems. Consequently, we believe that innovative biotechnologies can also serve to help correct a natural world that non-natural technologies have pushed out of balance. We must work together to provide a sustainable world system capable of equitably improving the lives of over 10 billion people. Toward that objective, our program focuses on human health as well as planet health. To address particularly difficult challenges, we seek to synergistically combine: 1) the design and evolution of complex protein-based nanoparticles and enzymatic systems with 2) innovative, uniquely capable cell-free production technologies. To advance human health we focus on: a) achieving the 120 year-old dream of producing “magic bullets”; smart nanoparticles that deliver therapeutics or genetic therapies only to specific cells in our bodies; b) precisely designing and efficiently producing vaccines that mimic viruses to stimulate safe and protective immune responses; and c) providing a rapid point-of-care liquid biopsy that will count and harvest circulating tumor cells. To address planet health we are pursuing biotechnologies to: a) inexpensively use atmospheric CO2 to produce commodity biochemicals as the basis for a new carbon negative chemical industry, and b) mitigate the intermittency challenges of photovoltaic and wind produced electricity by producing hydrogen either from biomass sugars or directly from sunlight. More than 25 years ago, Professor Swartz began his pioneering work to develop cell-free biotechnologies. The new ability to precisely focus biological systems toward efficiently addressing new, “non-natural” objectives has proven tremendously useful as we seek to address the crucial and very difficult challenges listed above. Another critical feature of the program is the courage (or naivete) to approach important objectives that require the development and integration of several necessary-but- not-sufficient technology advances.