June 28, 2023

CU’s Marvin Caruthers awarded inaugural prize, $400K, for biotech work

BOULDER — Marvin Caruthers, a prestigious University of Colorado Boulder biotechnology professor and researcher, has been named the first winner of the Richard N. Merkin Prize in Biomedical Technology for his work in DNA synthesis. 

“The chemical reactions that he discovered in the early 1980s to accurately and quickly assemble nucleotides into strands of DNA provided an essential element in the development of modern molecular medicine,” Merkin Prize organizers said in a news release. “Today, scientists use these reactions to produce customizable DNA and RNA molecules that enable genetic sequencing, drug and vaccine development, pathogen tests, cancer diagnostics, and many aspects of basic biomedical research.”

The prize, which comes with a $400,000 prize, was created by the Merkin Family Foundation and is administered by the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

“I am honored to acknowledge the incredible and transformative impact of Dr. Caruthers’ technology on human health over the past four decades,” Merkin, founder and CEO of the health care system Heritage Provider Network, said in the release. “He deserves our support and recognition. I hope this prize not only raises awareness of this work but underscores and encourages others to realize the broader importance of developing new scientific technologies to transform health care.”

Caruthers, named in 2022 as one of the Boulder Valley’s most iconic business figures of the last 40 years by BizWest, is CU’s distinguished professor of biochemistry, and has formed numerous biotechnology companies, including Genomica Corp., which was bought in 2001 by San Francisco-based Exelixis Inc.; Thousand Oaks, California-based Amgen Inc.; and Foster City, California-based Applied Biosystems Inc.

He’s also known for helping form NeXstar Pharmaceuticals Inc., which was acquired by Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc.; Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals Inc.; as well as Boulder-based Array Biopharma Inc., among others.

Caruthers was awarded a 2003 Esprit Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2018. He also keeps his hand in many of the other companies he helped start.

Many of those companies were in collaboration with Kyle Lefkoff. When Lefkoff started Boulder Ventures Ltd. in 1995, Caruthers became a founding investor and a founding member of the company’s investment committee. 

Besides all his biotech endeavors, he and his late wife, Jennie, created the Caruthers Family Foundation, which focuses on helping impoverished children get medical and dental care.

He also donated $20 million to the University of Colorado to help construct the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building, an interdisciplinary biotechnology building that houses the BioFrontiers Institute. The donation was the largest by a faculty member and one of the largest in the school’s history.

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