James Wyngaarden on Jim Watson, Director of the HGP at NIH
  James Wyngaarden     Biography    
Recorded: 18 Aug 2003

And at that point I became serious with Jim Watson. I mentioned the Reston meeting. AT the end of that Reston meeting when it was clear that we had some support and that the NIH was probably going to go forward with it, a group of people met with me and they said they thought that if this worked our right, it might be possible to drag Jim Watson into that position. I thought that was terrific!

These were scientific people who were invited to the Reston meeting. It included Victor McKusick and Charles Cantor and many others. But it may have been David Botstein. I don’t now remember precisely who is that suggested that Jim Watson might be available.

But once we had the money, I immediately got in touch with Jim Watson and we talked about this and he was willing to do it. Meanwhile, we had a few telephone conversations. And he had gotten permission from the Cold Spring Harbor trustees to take this on part-time. He would continue to live here. He would give us two or three days a week, but not always in Bethesda. He could do some things here. So we eventually set it up that way, and named him an associate director for human genome research.

The money that we got was unfortunately still part of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences budget. But it was earmarked for this program. And the next year we had a modest increase in this amount and enough so that I then, this was after Jim had come, I had by that time sent a formal request to the department to have this named a center. And the difference between a program and a center is that the center is a mini-institute. It has its own direct budget appropriated in its own name from the Congress. And it has its own advisory council. And just about the time that I resigned from the NIH, Jim had been there about a year, there was a change in the secretary’s position. And the new secretary coming in, his name was Louis Sullivan, asked me if there was anything that I would like to see done before I left that he could do. And I said [that] there’s one thing. I’d like to see the human genome project converted to center status. I told him that he had the authority to do that. I knew that he did because on one previous occasion the NIH director had created an institute, that’s the Environmental Health Institute, and that was Secretary Calabrese maybe fifteen years before that. After that was done the Congress then authorized it so it became even more official. So he researched it. Sullivan researched this and he came back and said, you’re right, I have the authority to do it and I’ll do it. So he created the center.

He was associate director for human genome research. Now he became the director of the center. No, I think he retained the same title. But Elke Jordan became the director of the center, but she reported to Jim. So he was still in control of it. I’m not sure he ever had the title of director himself. He was the overall associate director.

And that’s about the point where I left the NIH. Now I went from there to the White House Science office for a year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy. And there were a few things that came up regarding the center, but the big blowup that Jim ran into was after I had the government altogether.

James B. Wyngaarden is a medical doctor, biochemist and medical science advisor. He served as director of the National Institutes of Health, associate director for Life Sciences in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, and as director of the Human Genome Organization. Wyngaarden is currently part of the Washington Advisory Group, LLC and director of four biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies. Wyngaarden is also co-author of the textbook The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disease.

He researches the regulation of purine biosynthesis, the production of uric acid and he helped initiate the use of allopurinol, a drug developed as an anticancer agent and now used as a treatment for gout. While serving as director of the National Institutes of Heath, he enlisted the help of Dr. Watson in 1988 to begin the Human Genome Project. Jim obliged and joined the NIH as the associate director for Human Genome Research, while still acting as director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.