Arthur Riggs was a pioneer in the biotechnology industry, working on the development of artificial insulin, which has been used by millions of people globally to treat diabetes. In recent years, he became the largest single donor to the City of Hope’s research programs. Before he made a $100 million gift to the organization last year, few people had heard of him, despite his incredible work in the medical field.
Riggs joined the City of Hope in 1969 and recently retired. He was involved in some of the most significant breakthroughs in the biotechnology industry and developed various tools that allow scientists to produce recombinant monoclonal antibodies in living cells, which came in handy during the pandemic as a way to treat covid patients. Despite his achievements, Riggs is often overlooked due to his lack of recognition.
He was born in San Bernardino, California, and he studied at UC Riverside and San Bernardino High School. After graduating from high school, Riggs decided to pursue a career in chemistry. He was very talented in this field of study, and he wanted to combine that with his passion for improving the treatment of diseases. At the age of 29, he joined the City of Hope.
In the 1970s, Riggs and his team at City of Hope started working on the next step of DNA studies, which involved using fragments of DNA to create new genetic tools for treating diseases. He recruited Keiichi Itakura, a researcher in Canada, to help him with the project. Together with ten other scientists, they created a small synthetic gene that contains 14 amino acid components. Upon discovering an issue in stability, Riggs decided to combine this gene with a larger protein to fix this issue, or else it would not have been effective. This enabled Riggs and his team to create human insulin and apply for a patent after partnering with a researcher from Genentech. With the use of their lab, they were able to begin marketing this insulin as Humulin after getting it approved by the FDA. This resulted in sales of over $1 billion.
While Riggs was being recruited to take on more high-profile roles as a result of this achievement, he chose to remain at City of Hope, next focusing on improving antibodies.
Through his team’s work, they were able to create a new class of human antibodies that can be used to treat various autoimmune and cancer diseases. Several companies, such as Genentech, were able to negotiate licensing deals with the City of Hope for the technology.
At the same time, Riggs quietly began donating some of the money he received from the licensing deals to the City of Hope, which was supporting the research programs that he was leading. He decided to keep his philanthropic gifts private because he wanted to be treated as a scientist first and foremost rather than having attention turned on him. Eventually, his charitable efforts became known, leading up to his $100 million donation in 2021.
After he decided to retire from his position at the City of Hope, he and the organization’s leadership agreed that the research institute that he had led for over two decades would be renamed in his honor. Although he had already retired from his administrative position, Riggs said that he still plans to work on his diabetes research. He noted that he could have easily retired from his job and enjoyed life on the beach, but he would have been bored within a week.
With the advancements that still need to be made in diabetes research and treatment, Riggs hopes to continue in his goal to cure this disease.