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Kenneth Hillan

Kenneth HillanVice President of Immunology, Tissue Growth and Repair, Clinical Development at Genentech, San Francisco

Interview location: Genentech, San Francisco
Interview date: Friday 16th November, 2007

Key Themes: Attributes of a Pathologist, Mentors and Influences, New Technologies, Research versus Clinical Work



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Because pathologists work together in terms of diagnosing cases, there's a terrific amount of mentorship in training.  That's one of the really nice things about the discipline.Kenneth Hillan is unusual in that most of his career has been spent in industry – a move that he has found incredibly exciting and productive. Trained in Glasgow, he got involved in  cutting edge research in Paris and Glasgow into liver cell transplantation.  But in 1994 he joined the California-based biotech company Genentech just as the Human Genome Project was beginning to yield results “and we were a very active part of that. [Genentech] probably had more patents than anyone.”

The molecular biology revolution has allowed for many scientific advances, but the explosion of information has brought its own challenges in terms of interpretation. Although Hillan has no direct contact with patients he has had the satisfaction of helping develop drugs that have a huge impact on individuals.  Herceptin, for example, has been a breakthrough in breast cancer treatment. 

As well as his palpable enthusiasm for the science, Hillan stresses the importance for pathology of an artistic sensibility. “[It is] both the artistic and the scientific picture that helps you to understand disease.” He has enjoyed the serendipitous nature of his profession: “I like the fact that the journey you go on as a pathologist, you're never quite sure where it's going to end up.”

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