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John D. Baxter, M.D., 1940-2011

Houston, TX

The following statement was released by the family of Dr. John Baxter.

    Dr. John D. Baxter, world renowned scientist and medical visionary, famous for cloning of the first human growth hormone gene, passed away Wednesday, October 5, 2011, after an intensive 2-month battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 71.

    Dr. Baxter, former Professor of Medicine, Chief of Medical Endocrinology and founder of the UCSF Diabetes Center was most recently the Chief of Endocrinology with Methodist Hospital in Houston.

    Dr. Baxter made many fundamental medical discoveries and translated them into clinical therapies that had far reaching implications for the fields of biotechnology, genetic engineering, and the health and welfare of patients worldwide. His laboratory was an early pioneer in molecular biology and recombinant DNA technology, and was first to clone many important genes, including those for rat, human and bovine growth hormone.

    His group was first to show that growth hormone could be produced in bacteria; such 'biosynthetic' human growth hormone is now used worldwide to treat human growth disorders, and biosynthetic bovine growth hormone is used throughout the world to improve milk production. This work became the prototype for all DNA-based human therapeutics and led to the technologies that are now used throughout the biotechnology industry as well as in academic research laboratories.

    As a scientific entrepreneur, Dr. Baxter helped create several companies to facilitate getting his discoveries to patients. He was the founder and director of four successful biotech companies, the first of which, California Biotechnology Inc., founded in 1982, was ranked among the top 10 biotech companies in terms of market capitalization by the time it was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $2.4 billion. He also founded Karo-Bio, A.B. in 1987, raising $50M in initial financing for the startup, the largest initial amount of seed funding for any biotech company in history. In 1991, Dr. Baxter founded SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc., now a publicly traded company that has a drug in Phase III clinical trials in the United States.

    Dr. Baxter, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, graduated from Lafayette High School in 1958 where he was a statewide track and field star. A graduate of the University of Kentucky in 1962, Dr. Baxter has since been inducted into its Hall of Distinguished Alumni and was awarded an honorary Doctorate degree from Kentucky in 2003. A graduate of Yale Medical School in 1966 with highest honors and then a research associate with the National Institute of Health between 1968-1970, Dr. Baxter went on to spend nearly four decades teaching and doing research at the University of California, San Francisco, before taking over as one of the top researchers at The Methodist Hospital.

    Dr. Baxter was the author of more than 245 peer reviewed scientific articles, more than 109 books, book chapters and reviews, and a member of more than 10 scientific and medical societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, The Institute of Medicine, and the Endocrine Society, for which he served as its President. Dr. Baxter received distinguished service awards for outstanding research and clinical dedication from the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the Endocrine Society, Yale University and the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Sciences of Texas. He received an honorary Doctorate degree from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the University's highest honor, in 2001, and the Koch Award, the Endocrine Society's highest honor, in 2007.

    Yet John's greatest passions he reserved for the love of his family -- his wife, the Hon. Lee D. Baxter, San Francisco Superior Court (ret.), his daughters Gillian Galligan and Leslie Baxter, son-in-law Oliver Galligan, and grandson Connor. A generous and loyal friend, John was loved around the world as much for his brilliant contributions to science and medicine as for his large heart, unique compassion, tireless spirit and sense of humor. It was during quiet moments in nature, in the treasured moments with family, in his most passionate moments of discovery in the lab, that John was happiest. He will be missed by family, friends and colleagues who knew and loved him, and the hundreds of thousands of others whose lives were impacted by his gifts here on earth.

    In lieu of flowers, please send donations in his memory to:

    The Endocrine Society
    In Honor of Dr. John Baxter
    8401 Connecticut Ave, Suite 900
    Chevy Chase, MD 20815

    A celebration of Dr. John Baxter's life will be held at a date to be determined.