William H. Andrews (biologist)

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William H. Andrews
Born (1951-12-10) December 10, 1951 (age 63)
Saginaw, Michigan, U.S.
Residence US
Citizenship American
Fields Molecular biology
Institutions Sierra Sciences
Alma mater University of Georgia
Notable awards IPO National Inventor of the Year (second place)

William Henry "Bill" Andrews, Ph.D. (born December 10, 1951 in Saginaw, Michigan) is an American molecular biologist and gerontologist whose career has centered on searching for a cure for human aging. Andrews is the founder and president of the biotechnology company Sierra Sciences.[1] In 1997, he led the team at Geron Corporation that was the first to successfully identify human telomerase.[2][3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Andrews was born on December 10, 1951, to television producer Ralph Andrews and Margaret Andrews. As a child, Andrews was told by his father that he should grow up to become a doctor and find a cure for aging.[1] Andrews graduated from Cate School in 1971, from University of California, San Diego in 1976, and earned his Ph.D. in Molecular and Population Genetics at the University of Georgia in 1981.


Early career (1981–1999)[edit]

Andrews first worked at the biotechnology company Armos Corporation, which was later purchased by Codon Corporation, which in turn was purchased by Berlex Biosciences, now known as Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals. In 1993, Andrews convinced Berlex to send him to an anti-aging conference at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he met Calvin Harley of Geron Corporation.[1] Harley gave a speech on the subject of telomeres and telomerase, their discovery in the organism Tetrahymena by Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, and on the possible connection between telomeres and aging. Harley mentioned that no one had yet been successful in cloning telomerase in human beings.

After the speech, Andrews approached Harley and told him that he could clone human telomerase for Geron in three months. Harley took him up on this offer and hired Andrews as Geron's Director of Molecular Biology. Three months and seventeen days later, Andrews' team successfully cloned the RNA component of telomerase ("hTR").[1] For this discovery, Andrews and members of his team were awarded second place for "National Inventor of the Year" in 1997 by the Intellectual Property Owners Association[6] (first place having been awarded for the invention of protease inhibitors.[7]) Andrews' team later co-discovered the protein component of human telomerase ("hTERT") as well.[1][5]

Further experiments by Andrews and his team demonstrated that the protein component of telomerase was inducible, and that when the gene for that component was inserted into normal human skin cells, they could divide past the Hayflick limit and essentially stopped exhibiting replicative senescence, a likely cause of aging. Years later, these cells were deemed immortal. Typically, the only immortal human cells are our germline and most cancers.[1]

Sierra Sciences (1999–present)[edit]

In 1999, Andrews founded Sierra Sciences in Reno, Nevada, to capitalize on his discoveries at Geron, with the specific goal of curing human aging. Underwritten by investors Richard Offerdahl and Pierluigi Zappacosta, Andrews assembled a team to search for a small molecule that would bind to the telomerase repressor, causing the body to constitutively express telomerase in the presence of that molecule.[2]

From 1999 to 2005, Sierra Sciences' focus was to identify the telomerase repressor protein, in the hopes that a drug could be specifically designed to bind to it. During this time frame, Geron Corporation discovered TA-65, a small-molecule telomerase activator derived from Astragalus membranaceus. Sierra Sciences tested its efficacy,[8] and shortly thereafter, Andrews became the first paying customer to take the supplement.[2]

In 2005, Andrews shelved Sierra Sciences' efforts to identify the telomerase repressor protein, instead switching to the "brute force" strategy of developing assays to screen large numbers of semi-random chemicals to determine whether they induced telomerase.[1] In November 2007, after nearly two years of screening, Sierra Sciences discovered the chemical C0056784,[2] which induces approximately 6% as much telomerase as is found in the immortal cancer cell line HeLa.[9]

In 2008, using C0057684 as a positive control, Sierra Sciences developed a much more sensitive real-time PCR based high-throughput screening assay, the "hTERT RT-PCR assay," with which they were able to screen 4,000 chemicals per week.[9] In 2010, Andrews and Sierra Sciences entered into an agreement with John Anderson, founder of Isagenix International, to use this assay to screen natural ingredients for telomerase activity. A year later, based on the assay's results, Isagenix launched Product B, a telomere-supporting nutraceutical.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Andrews is an accomplished ultramarathon runner, frequently running races as long as 138 miles long.[2] In 2008[11] and 2009,[12] Andrews successfully completed the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race through Death Valley in temperatures exceeding 120 °F (49 °C).

Andrews is the subject of the 2014 documentary film The Immortalists.


  • Bill Andrews on Telomere Basics: Curing Aging (Second Edition) (Sierra Sciences, 2014)


External links[edit]