Professor James 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.