My Lifelong Fight Against Disease

From Polio and AIDS to COVID-19

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Pub Date 16 Feb 2021 | Archive Date 06 Apr 2021

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Anticipating a career in medicine, Dr. William A. Haseltine was in his first weeks of graduate studies at Harvard when a legendary physician-scientist offered this advice: “You can do more for human health through science than you ever could as a doctor.” That advice hit him “like a thunderbolt”—and he took it.

Since then, Dr. Haseltine has helped combat cancers, worked to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic and unlocked the power of the human genome to develop dozens of new pharmaceutical cures. His discoveries in molecular biology and genomics, amplified through his counsel at the highest levels of government and in the public eye, have improved the health and lives of millions of people around the world.

For the first time, Dr. Haseltine tells his life story—which is still unfolding—in My Lifelong Fight Against Disease, including facing devastating public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlighting exhilarating moments of medical discovery. In writing the story of his wide ranging career, Dr. Haseltine’s goals are simple: to encourage the next generation to make their own significant contribution to human life, and for all readers to appreciate science as a humanistic enterprise.

A compulsively readable and fast paced insider’s account of some of the most brilliant medical breakthroughs in modern history, My Lifelong Fight Against Disease is a candid, evocative and ultimately revelatory exploration into what it means to make science your life. 

Anticipating a career in medicine, Dr. William A. Haseltine was in his first weeks of graduate studies at Harvard when a legendary physician-scientist offered this advice: “You can do more for human...

Advance Praise

“Readers will be swept along by the excitement of discovery, the urgency of breakthrough treatment, the impact of policy and the thrill of success. I can well imagine future leaders in health science looking back on this book as formative to their own journeys.”

—Brian Greene

Director, Columbia Center for Theoretical Physics; Co-founder and Chairman, World Science Festival


“This compelling personal and professional story offers a superbly insightful analysis of what it will take for humanity to keep combatting increasingly complex health challenges and their devastating impacts. A life and career guided by a purpose to improve the health and well being of people everywhere is a legacy that gives hope.”

—Michelle Williams

Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


“Enthusiasm in embracing the public context of science is all too rare in the science community. Bill models this in a joyful way, inspiring others to relish science and public engagement. This book is an instant classic!”

—Mary Woolley

President and CEO, Research!America


“A timely, moving and inspirational account of the difference that a curious man can make in the world. He combines his powerful personal story with easy-to-read explanations of his tussles with medical science, and thrilling accounts of the political battles he faced.”

—Gillian Tett

Chair Editorial Board and Editor-at-Large, The Financial Times


“This gripping autobiography is at once a study in the development of a scientific mind infused with humanist commitment and a candid revelation of a complex and many sided personality. Readers will get to know great scientists, political figures, activists and above all the author himself, whose careers in molecular biology research and biopharmaceutical entrepreneurship have been of immense benefit to humankind.”

—Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.

President Emeritus, Georgetown University


“A fascinating tale of growth and discovery of a medical scientist who thinks both deeply and broadly.”

—Alfred Sommer, MD

Dean Emeritus and Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

“Readers will be swept along by the excitement of discovery, the urgency of breakthrough treatment, the impact of policy and the thrill of success. I can well imagine future leaders in health science...

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National media coverage, podcasts, and virtual events at select universities, bookstores, and groups across the country

National media coverage, podcasts, and virtual events at select universities, bookstores, and groups across the country

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Featured Reviews

Excellent history of science I enjoyed this book. Because Dr. Haseltine was involved politically and is generally philosophical, it is a story about his times, not just about him. It also constitutes a fairly good history of science. I found many of the anecdotes amusing and the book is thoughtful and well-written. Dr. Haseltine is obviously a very accomplished man, but I found some of the statements he makes self-congratulatory, even though true. All-in-all, this is a book well worth reading. Disclosure: I received a complimentary advance reader copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.

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Dr Haseltine has helped combat cancers, worked to contain the HIV/AIDS pandemic and unlocked the power of the human genome to develop dozens of new pharmaceutical cures. “You can do more for human health through science than you ever could as a doctor.” This is such a very well written and researched book, you can understand just how passionate the author is and how important his lives work has been. As a nurse who has worked in emergency care, palliative care, and now intensive care, the storyline resonated well with me. There are many lessons to be learnt from the author, and with the current situation and pandemic, it can be a vital learning opportunity for others. The book cover is eyecatching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

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This story spanning Dr Haseltines career is a fascinating & gripping tale. I will be recommending this to my students because many of them want to be Drs but there is an alternative, better way to help the sick. This book will inspire them to aim for greatness without taking the predictable path.

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William Haseltine is an American scientist, educator, entrepreneur, author and philanthropist. At bottom, however, Haseltine is a humanitarian who strives to improve human health and welfare. He writes, "I knew early on that a life of healing was for me. As a four-year-old standing next to my mother's sickbed, terrified she might die from sepsis, my purpose began to form: to make a difference to human health." Haseltine opted for a career in medical science, and obtained a B.A. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University. Haseltine was a go-getter from an early age, excelling in school as he grew up China Lake, California - one of the world's most formidable centers for advanced weapons research. Haseltine's scientist father designed deadly weapons while his mother - who suffered from bipolar disorder - loved gastronomy and culture. When young Bill's mother was well enough she took him to fine dining restaurants, museums, theatres, symphonies, dance performances, etc. Thus Bill grew up with an intense interest in science AND the arts. With his mother's encouragement, teenage Bill participated in a summer voyage to Japan sponsored by the Naval League, a pilgrimage to the United Nations coordinated by a service society called the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, and a post-high school trip to Western Europe. On the European continent, Bill visited as many art museums, cathedrals, battlefields, monuments, forts, castles, and Roman sites as possible, and made sure to dine in some of Europe's finest eateries - where he ordered two of every course: two appetizers, two first courses, two second courses, and two or three desserts. (Ahhh, the metabolism of youth. 🙂) These activities and learning opportunities expanded Bill's horizons well beyond those of the average young man. Haseltine's university education coincided with a surge in federal funding for science and science education, spurred by Russia's launch of Sputnik in 1957. America was determined to catch up with - and surpass - Russia's accomplishments in science. Haseltine writes, "New energy and enthusiasm for science and technology programs fed rapidly into the ranks of me and my peers in high school and colleges." The push for science expanded Haseltine's opportunities at Berkeley, where he was mentored by George Pimentel - chair of the chemistry department; at MIT - where he had a summer internship with biophysicist Alex Rich; and at Harvard - where he worked with molecular biologist James Watson (who discovered the structure of DNA with Francis Crick). Haseltine met many Nobel Prize winners along the way, who served as both inspirations and teachers. Haseltine also became a political activist during his years at Berkeley, which was the hub of protests against the Vietnam War. This activism led to Haseltine doing investigative journalism in later years. As a graduate student at Harvard, Haseltine developed an interest in DNA: how it copies itself, how it codes for proteins, what makes diverse cells of a single individual (all of which have the same DNA) different from each other, etc. Haseltine also studied viruses, which were responsible for the polio scourge of Haseltine's youth, and are associated with various cancers. Haseltine explains his research in detail, and - though technical - the explanations should be accessible to interested lay readers. In time, Haseltine became a professor at Harvard, and used his knowledge and expertise to create more than a dozen biotechnology companies; to contribute to new cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, anthrax, lupus, and diabetes; and to accelerate the discoveries of many other medicines. Haseltine has also partnered with medical experts in many countries; influenced public policy at the highest levels; and improved human health around the world. He writes, "Over the past fifteen years, I have created two foundations with wealth from my business ventures, one to foster collaboration between the arts and science, and another to advise governments around the world on how to bring high-quality, affordable healthcare to all their people." To advance his causes, Haseltine has collaborated with well known people in many fields, and notes, "I have had the privilege of forming lifelong friendships with world-renowned actors, artists, musicians, writers, economists, business titans, military men and women, and politicians." Among people he's known or worked with, Haseltine includes Dr. Anthony Fauci, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Holbrooke, Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, John Kenneth Galbraith, and a gamut of famous scientists and researchers. The core of Haseltine's biography revolves around his scientific accomplishments, but the author also includes compelling anecdotes about his parents, grandparents, siblings, and upbringing in China Lake; stories about his world travels; gossip about his academic rivals (science research can be a cutthroat business); descriptions of the books he's written; overviews of the establishment and funding of his biotechnology companies (which should be of interest to business aficionados); and a description of the publication he's putting together about the coronavirus pandemic, for which he's a consultant. Some of the scientific sections are a bit muddled, but I found the book interesting and informative. My major quibbles are that Haseltine toots his own horn quite a bit, and says almost nothing about his wives and children, which seems like an odd omission in a biography. Thanks to Netgalley, William Haseltine, and Amplify Publishing for a copy of the book.

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In addition to being prominent in his field Dr Haseltine is a successful writer who has dealt with Congress, media and the stock market. Leading a life rich with experience he has touched and changed so many different areas of society. When he decided to devote his life to healing through science the world became a better place even if at times he had to fight to be believed. Opportunities to read books like this allow me to keep informed and increase my understanding of science. I gained a lot more than expected and remain in awe of this inspiring and amazing man. I was amused by the Senators reaction to Elizabeth Taylor’s oral sex question. I was also interested to learn twenty to thirty percent of all colds are caused by coronavirus cousins of COVID-19. If he didn’t have such an easy to understand way of explaining things some of the detail would have gone over my head. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of the book in return for an honest review

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Fighting disease from both inside and outside the lab Dr. William Haseltine’s life in science Michele Harris Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, doctors, scientists and public health experts have become almost as recognizable as pop stars—none more so than Dr. William Haseltine, who seems to be getting almost as much screen time as Wolf Blitzer. Haseltine is the rare individual who has considerable expertise and experience in healthcare, public health policy and hard-core science. He was a professor at Harvard Medical School for over 15-years. While there, he founded and chaired two new academic research departments. He is also an incredibly successful businessman and entrepreneur. He founded twelve biotech companies including Human Genome Sciences, Inc., which pioneered the use of genomics in developing new pharmaceuticals. Companies Haseltine founded have produced eight pharmaceutical products currently in use around the world. As a journalist, Haseltine was the first to report on the toxic impact of dioxin. He is an active philanthropist who established two non-profit foundations. He has published hundreds of scientific papers and authored eleven books. In his recently released memoir, My Lifelong Fight Against Disease: From Polio to AIDS to COVID-19 (Amplify), Haseltine chronicles his on-going efforts to ease human suffering through science, business and philanthropy. Life of a scientist As an undergraduate student at Berkeley, Haseltine prepared to be a doctor. By the time he arrived at Harvard Medical School however, he began to see a different path. “In my early twenties, I discovered I could make an even bigger difference to health through a career in medical science,” he says. In the book, Haseltine paints a realistic picture of his field saying, “It is hard to be a scientist. You fail most of the time. You compete with your colleagues and friends. Sometimes, you must work for years, not knowing if your well-planned experiments will yield an important, or trivial, answer.” He goes on to describe the cutthroat nature of the scientific community saying, “When you work with the best people in the world, you learn how best to approach and solve a problem. You also learn how competitive science is in that upper echelon. Think Olympic level competitive drive. A big discovery or breakthrough is rarely met with praise or cheers.” This book is essential reading for anyone considering a career in medicine or bioresearch. “I hope many younger readers will be enthralled by these stories and moved to pursue a life in science for themselves and for the contributions they could make to improve human life,” says Haseltine. “I also hope readers who may have regarded science as removed from our collective drama will see the pursuit of scientific knowledge as intimately connected to realizing all that we hold valuable in life.” How to fight a pandemic—1980 In the early 1980s, AIDS began killing scores of homosexual men and IV drug users. Initially, there was little public support for funding research on the devastating virus. Science too was slow to invest much time or money into AIDS research, but Haeltine ran towards the problem not away from it. “For a time, I was one of the few scientists willing to talk about HIV and AIDS to reporters,” says Haseltine. In the lab, Haseltine helped develop AZT and other drugs to treat the disease, but he also recognized a tremendous need to educate the public about AIDS. Haseltine recruited top celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor to advocate for AIDS research. He also set his sights on royalty, feeling that any message of support from a royal would go a long way to show people around the world that there was no need to fear contracting AIDS from casual contact. It was Princess Diana who answered the call. “Princess Diana did more than anyone else—visiting AIDS clinics in many countries with photographers present, shaking hands with adult patients, holding babies and young children—to soften the public’s perception of people with AIDS,” says Haseltine. “I am convinced that those images from the very outset did more to de-stigmatize AIDS than all government campaigns and pronouncements combined. Never again did reporters ask me, ‘Can I catch AIDS by being around sick people?’” How to fight a pandemic—2021 More recently, Haseltine saw a need for clear, fact-based advice about COVID-19, so he quickly wrote two books: A Family Guide to COVID: Questions & Answers for Parents, Grandparents & Children and A COVID Back To School Guide: Questions and Answers for Parents and Students. He searched for a publisher to quickly distribute the book then keep updating its content as new science emerged. No publisher could do it, so he distributed the books through his foundation ACCESS Health International. “Each time new discoveries happen, we update the books immediately on our website and within a few days through the major retailers.” Both of these books are available free of charge on the ACCESS Health International website ( and available in print from Amazon.

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