History Magazine

A Tough Start to a New Decade

By Scarc
LPISM staff assembled for a group photo.  To Pauling's right are Emile Zuckerkandl, Ewan Cameron and Richard Hicks.

LPISM staff assembled for a group photo. To Pauling’s right are Emile Zuckerkandl, Ewan Cameron and Richard Hicks. By 1992, none of these three crucial staff members would remain affiliated with the Institute.

[A history of the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, Part 5 of 8]

For the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine, the difficult decade of the 1980s was one plagued by lawsuits, dramatic monetary problems, and the death of Ava Helen Pauling. Yet for all of its struggles, LPISM soldiered on as best as it could.

One who would help define the decade to come, Dr. Matthias Rath, was a charismatic, intelligent, young German physician who had a passion for vitamin C and cardiovascular health. He had met Linus Pauling on numerous occasions, and in 1989 Pauling invited him to join the LPISM staff. Rath was charming and popular with many of his colleagues. However Pauling’s oldest son, Linus Jr. – a long-time Institute board member – took caution, noting in a 2012 interview his concern that Pauling would offer a position of importance to somebody that he felt was very inexperienced.

Two other major events occurred in 1990: Pauling and Zelek Herman developed a new method to analyze clinical trial data, and the National Cancer Institute installed a new president by the name of Samuel Broder. Pauling immediately began corresponding with Broder, and eventually convinced him to reopen the case for vitamin C as a treatment and prevention for cancer. This resulted in an international conference held in Washington D.C. in 1991 and sponsored by the NCI. It was titled “Ascorbic Acid: Biological Functions in Relations to Cancer.” Pauling was the obvious candidate for keynote speaker and he later said of the conference, “It was great! A great affair! Very exciting!”

Participants in the NCI symposium on Vitamin C and Cancer, Bethesda, Maryland, September 1991

Participants in the NCI symposium on Vitamin C and Cancer, Bethesda, Maryland, September 1991

At this same time, Pauling created a new position at LPISM for Rath, who was named the first Director of Cardiovascular Research. With this, Linus Jr. became even more concerned. Increasingly, he began to question his father’s administrative acumen and began taking steps to assume a more active role in the management of Institute, despite the fact that he lived in Hawaii.

Another big change was on the horizon as well. The city of Palo Alto was planning to change their zoning laws in an effort to increase residency, and informed LPISM that they had three years to find a new home. The Institute realized that the time allotted them was insufficient, and they began a campaign to delay the eviction.  Staff set up card tables in front of businesses, disbursing flyers and circulating a petition to keep LPISM where it was.

The positive response that they received from the locals was staggering and gave the Institute some measure of leverage in their conversations with the city. At one point, Steve Lawson was called before the city council, and one member said that she didn’t want to read in the New York Times that Palo Alto had kicked LPISM out of town. Eventually the council informed LPISM that the zoning law changes were still going to go through, but that the Institute would be granted more time to plan and relocate.

On the research front, after almost two years of marketing Pauling’s superconductor domestically with no leads, Rick Hicks decided to look abroad for a buyer. He contacted parties all over Europe and Asia, and one day a man showed up at the office to inquire about superconductor sales. He identified himself as an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, which had taken an interest as to why LPISM was trying to sell this research internationally, especially in Japan, instead of on the U.S. market.

Hicks was away from the office at the time, but other employees were able to explain how he had tried unsuccessfully to sell it domestically first. Steve Lawson later recalled the experience as having been a jarring one. Unfortunately for LPISM, they also failed to sell the superconductor abroad and, due to an oversight, misplaced the paperwork required to pay the royalty fee needed to maintain the patent, which they lost as a result.


While this was going on, Pauling and Rath published a paper defining vitamin C deficiency as the major cause of cardiovascular disease. It immediately caused controversy, but the authors stood behind their work and continued on. Once again, concerns about Pauling’s infatuation with vitamin C began to resurge in the scientific community.

Another blow to the Institute’s fortunes was delivered on March 21, 1991, when Ewan Cameron died. His passing rocked the staff and morale plummeted. Shortly afterward, Pauling was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to undergo surgery. On top of all of this, the fiscal report for the end of 1991 showed that LPISM was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Workers remained loyal however, and numerous employees volunteered to suspend retirement contributions or work at reduced pay to keep the Institute afloat. Despite this, LPISM was still forced to cut their staff in half by early 1992.

Meanwhile, Pauling and Rath continued to promote vitamin C for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment, and despite continuing doubts about their individual claims, they began to see more support as the medical community gradually realized that it had been underestimating the value of vitamin C for decades. As their work progressed, Rath’s connection to Pauling continued to grow.

In the spring of 1992, more change was clearly afoot when Emile Zuckerkandl’s contract with LPISM was not renewed. This was a controversial move, as Zuckerkandl was well-liked and respected by the staff. After his departure from LPISM, he founded his own institute, the Institute of Medical Molecular Sciences. He asked the Board of LPISM if he could lease space within LPISM for his new IMMS, a request that was granted.

Additionally, Zuckerkandl invited many of the LPISM staff who had been laid off to join IMMS. When he received news that Zuckerkandl was leaving, Rick Hicks, who by now was the Vice President for Financial Affairs, submitted his resignation as well. He had worked very closely with Zuckerkandl and wanted to follow him to other business ventures. The Board was surprised by Hicks’ resignation and the Institute didn’t want to lose its affiliation with him completely, so they elected him to the Board to keep him at least tangentially involved in LPISM. Happily, Hicks’ last act as an employee was to inform the Board that the estate of Carl L. Swadener had been bequeathed to the Institute and that it was valued at $2-3 million.

Linus Pauling Jr. was elected as the next Institute President, replacing Zuckerkandl. The organization that he took over was in grim shape, despite the windfall from the Swadener estate. As he assumed his new office, one of his top priorities was Matthias Rath. Amidst the recent shuffle, Linus Pauling had appointed Rath as Hicks’ replacement and at the same time the two had founded the Linus Pauling Heart Foundation, a separate and parallel organization to LPISM designed to focus on the Pauling-Rath cardiovascular disease research. These decisions were a source of concern to the Board and much of the staff, who were unsure if the Heart Foundation would be a competitor to the Institute, an arm of the Institute or a supporting organization to the Institute.


Overwhelmed by work, facing a serious illness and feeling his age, Linus Pauling officially retired from his leadership role at LPISM on July 23, 1992. In the wake of this announcement, the Board elected Steve Lawson as Executive Officer of the Institute, named Pauling its Research Director and Linus Pauling Jr. the Chairman of the Board. Linus Jr. immediately assumed a strong leadership role and, working closely with Lawson, aggressively pursued actions to solve the Institute’s numerous problems.

The two quickly decided that attaching LPISM to a university offered the best chance for its survival. At the same time, they realized that LPISM had become bloated and that they needed to pare back on the organization’s non-orthomolecular research, which had largely been created and expanded under Zuckerkandl’s leadership. While Linus Jr. and Lawson both agreed that the research was worthwhile, they also realized that the Institute simply lacked the funds to maintain it. Zuckerkandl had remained close to LPISM, and when almost all of his research programs were cut, he asked the researchers overseeing these programs to resign from LPISM and join IMMS, which many did.

While this was happening, tensions were mounting between Pauling, Linus Jr. and Matthias Rath. Pauling was informed that Rath had created an office for the Heart Foundation that was separate from LPISM, and that he had done so without permission and without even telling Pauling. He criticized Rath aloud for this decision, which only inflamed the situation.  From there, the speed with which the Pauling-Rath relationship soured was dramatic. In July, Rath was spending great amounts of time at Pauling’s home, and they frequently exchanged letters expressing a close friendship. By August they were hardly on speaking terms, and Rath was ultimately expelled from the Institute, asked to resign over a dispute involving intellectual property rights.

For all of the troubles of the 1980s, the ’90s were getting off to a rough start. The roller coaster ride would continue on in the time ahead, containing both the Institute’s darkest hours and its greatest triumphs.

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