Robert Ting, 77; Biotech Pioneer
Friday, September 22, 2006
Robert C.Y. Ting, 77, a research scientist who started one of the early biotechnology companies in the Washington area, died Sept. 11 of complications after cardiac surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.
Dr. Ting founded Biotech Research Laboratories Inc. in Rockville in 1973, producing cells for government scientists to use in research. Eleven years later, his firm obtained a federal license to develop and produce the first FDA-approved diagnostic test kits for HIV antibody confirmation.
Robert C. Gallo, who co-discovered the HIV virus as the cause of AIDS, called Dr. Ting a pioneer in the field who popularized the term "biotechnology" when he moved from research to entrepreneurship.
"He introduced me to virology, and he did it twice," said Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore. The men had known each other since the 1960s, and while playing tennis one day, Dr. Ting advised the cancer researcher to look at new research in viruses. Later, when Gallo was studying leukemia, Dr. Ting directed him to animal research in leukemia. "First he showed me how viruses change cells. Then he introduced me to retrovirology. . . . I went into retrovirology solely because of those discussions with Bob Ting on tennis courts," Gallo said.
Dr. Ting, whom Gallo described as a quiet, modest man, was born in Shanghai, the son of a physician to Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek. His family fled the country during the Japanese invasion of China during World War II and moved to Hong Kong. Soon after, he moved to the United States, where he received a bachelor's degree and in 1956 a master's degree in genetics from Amherst College.
He received a doctoral degree in microbiology and biochemistry from the University of Illinois in 1960 under Salvador E. Luria, who later won the 1969 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology. Dr. Ting spent the next two years on a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, working with Renato Dulbecco, who later won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology. Their work focused on how viruses cause tumors.
"A lot of molecular biology developed from this," Dr. Ting told The Washington Post in 1984 from his Rockville office, cluttered with scientific journals, awards and a large blackboard. "There was so much evidence in animal systems [that viruses cause tumors], that the next question was obvious -- can you find the equivalent in humans."
Dr. Ting joined the National Institutes of Health in 1962 as a visiting fellow and then a senior research scientist at the National Cancer Institute. From 1966 to 1968, he was an associate editor for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
In 1969, he joined Litton Bionetics Inc. in Rockville as director of experimental oncology, leading a project funded by the institute to search for viruses in human leukemia patients. He became scientific director of the cancer research branch the next year.
With academic, government and private business experience under his belt, Dr. Ting decided to go into business on his own and in 1973 started Biotech Research Laboratories in Rockville. It was a profitable supplier of research services and supplies until 1981, when it went public and produced the HIV diagnostic test kits. It became one of the most successful public biotech companies in the area in the mid-1980s.
The Economic Development Board of Singapore invited him to return to Asia to start a biotech company, which he did in 1985, forming Diagnostic Biotechnology Ltd. He also joined the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at the National University of Singapore, which Gallo called "the most prominent Asian academic biotechnology center."
He returned to the United States in 1998 to join the board of Cell Works Inc. in Baltimore, and became chair and chief executive of a joint venture, Cell Works Asia Limited, in 2000.
Most recently, Dr. Ting was the founding president and chief executive of Profectus Biosciences Inc. of Baltimore, previously known as Maryland BioTherapeutics Inc.
Dr. Ting was past chairman of the F.F. Fraternity, one of the oldest Chinese fraternities in the United States. He was also a member of the Organization of Chinese Americans in the D.C. area since its inception in the early 1970s. He enjoyed tennis, golf, ballroom dancing and international travel. He also was a wine connoisseur.
Survivors include his wife of 44 years, Sylvia Han Ting of Potomac; three children, Anthony Ting of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Andrew Ting of Beverly, Mass., and Jennifer Chow of Potomac; seven sisters; and seven grandchildren.