By Matthew Willett
Human Genome Sciences Inc. chairman and CEO William Haseltine sold 600,000 shares of HGSI, about 7.2 percent of his holdings, for $31.8 million last week to fund the establishment of the William A. Haseltine Foundation for Medical Sciences and The Arts, the company confirmed Wednesday.
The move by one of the most recognizable figures in Biotechnology leaves Haseltine with ownership or an option for ownership of about 7.6 million shares in HGS, a Rockville, Md.-based company dedicated to the discovery and development of gene-based therapeutics.
Haseltine also claimed tax planning and investment diversification purposes as motivations for the sale, in a press release that was issued by the company in response to inquiries. His real motivation, however, was philanthropic, he told BioWorld Today. His aim is to give something back, he said, to a society that¿s given him much.
¿Anyone who admits the truth knows their success was only made possible by a portion of society infinitely greater than themselves,¿ Haseltine said. ¿I don¿t believe there¿s anything such as a self-made man.¿ There are men and women who are given opportunities by society.¿
The foundation will endow several groups that gave Haseltine himself an opportunity or two. Likely beneficiaries are Harvard Medical School¿s Dana-Farber Institute, where Haseltine once taught; the recently started National Health Museum, of which Haseltine is chairman of the board; and The Brookings Institute, with which Haseltine also is involved.
The foundation will also fund scholarships for underprivileged students on the high school and college level, and will make endowments in the arts.
Haseltine is a fan of contemporary art; he mentioned the New York artist Eric Fischel, a leader in the new school of figurative painting, as one of his personal favorites.
The move isn¿t Haseltine¿s first foray into philanthropy, but it marks him as a leader in an industry he hopes will give more to society than the rich discoveries it pioneers.
¿There¿s always an impulse,¿ Haseltine said, ¿There¿s an old saying: To he whom much has been given, much is expected.¿ I believe that if you¿re fortunate enough to accumulate some wealth as a result of effort and as a result of the society understanding the importance [of what you¿re doing], and as a result of society providing me with some fine tools of education and opportunity, my response should be to give some of that back.
¿I hope also that this serves as an example to other biotechnology executives,¿ he said. ¿We¿ve seen that there¿s a new philanthropic spirit in the technology community, and I hope to see a corresponding philanthropic impulse in biotechnology entrepreneurs.¿
HGS¿s stock (NASDAQ:HGSI) rose $4.17 Wednesday to close at $56.45.