William K. Bowes Jr. — early investor in biotech industry well known for philanthropy
William K. Bowes Jr., a pioneer investor in the biotechnology industry, an ardent supporter of basic medical research, and long an active philanthropist, died of cardiac arrest at his home in San Francisco on Dec. 28 with his wife, Ute, by his side. He was 90.
Mr. Bowes was a founder of U.S. Venture Partners, the wide-ranging Silicon Valley firm that has backed more than 450 startup companies in varied new fields, and that focuses now on information technology and health care.
As an investment banker nearly 40 years ago, Mr. Bowes became aware of a new and still controversial gene-splicing science known as recombinant DNA, and it led to his investment in one of the first commercial ventures in genetic engineering, a young Emeryville gene-splicing company called Cetus.
When management issues plagued that company in 1983, Mr. Bowes recruited a team of scientists and founded a new firm at first called Applied Molecular Genetics. He raised $200,000 from six other investors to finance it.
The firm became Amgen, and it is now the largest independent pharmaceutical company in the world, valued at more than $120 billion.
Its first bioengineered product was the recombinant hormone called erythropoietin, which treats the often fatal anemia from chronic kidney failure and cancer. It still saves lives.
As his venture capital investments in varied companies grew through U.S. Venture Partners, Mr. Bowes turned to what he called “venture philanthropy,” and over the years he became a major contributor to UCSF. His most recent “investment” in the university was a $50 million pledge to support young medical researchers and it brought his gifts for the medical center to more than $100 million.
With his wide range of interests in science, culture, the environment and humanitarian causes, Mr. Bowes created the William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation and gave financial and often leadership support to many local and national organizations.
Among them were the Exploratorium, where he had served as chairman of the board; the San Francisco Opera; the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; the Asian Art Museum; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Environmental Defense Fund; the interdisciplinary biosciences institute called Stanford Bio-X; the Harvard Stem Cell Research Institute; the Institute for Systems Biology; the California Academy of Sciences; Teach for America; and the International Rescue Committee.
He was also a dedicated supporter of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral and of Bishop William E. Swing’s United Religions Initiative, an international organization that promotes interfaith cooperation, and seeks to end religiously motivated violence.
“Bill was so widely respected and beloved in the Bay Area community that when he said something was worth investing in, others trusted his instincts and followed his lead,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood.
Mr. Bowes was born in San Francisco and graduated from Lowell High School. He interrupted his college years at Stanford to join the infantry during World War II, and served in the Philippines and Japan before returning to Stanford to earn his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1950. He obtained his MBA from Harvard in 1952.
He is survived by his wife, Ute Conchita Bowes; by Frances Fay Bowes, the widow of his late brother, John; and by his nieces, Alexandra, Diana and Elena Bowes.
Memorial services will be held at Grace Cathedral on Feb. 6 at 4 p.m.
William K. Bowes Jr.