ZymoGenetics CEO Bruce Carter Retires, Promotes Doug Williams, Says Sad Goodbyes to Biotech “Family”

11/21/08Follow @xconomy

It’s a sad day for Seattle biotech. One of the charismatic pioneers of the local life sciences cluster, Bruce Carter, is retiring from his job as CEO of ZymoGenetics.

“I’m quite sad,” Carter says. “I’ve been here a long time, and it’s sort of like my family.”

The news is really no surprise. Carter, 65, is handing over the responsibility of the company’s top executive job to Doug Williams, 50, a former chief scientist of Seattle-based Immunex who has been groomed for this role for years. Carter isn’t completely riding into the sunset—he will retain his ties to ZymoGenetics by serving as non-executive chairman of the board, and serve on the boards of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, the Hyderabad, India-based generic drugmaker, and on the nonprofit TB Alliance. He will continue to live in Seattle with his famous wife, KING-5 TV anchorwoman Jean Enerson. Carter plans to catch up on some favorite leisure activities, namely gardening and getting back into shape with rowing. His exit from the company (NASDAQ: ZGEN) will be official on Jan. 2.

What he won’t be doing is looking over his successor’s shoulder and telling him what to do. “If you hire a lion, you shouldn’t roar yourself. Let the lion roar,” says Carter, a native of Great Britain, with his usual flair for metaphor.

Carter, a microbiologist by training, played an instrumental role in building ZymoGenetics into one of the region’s top biotech companies. He departs at a vulnerable moment in the company’s history, as it has been whipsawed by investors who were disappointed in the sales of its first marketed product, recombinant thrombin for surgical bleeding. ZymoGenetics has had to make layoffs, sell off land, settle a patent dispute, and hand over rights to its lead drug candidate to a partner this year to compensate for the disappointing performance of the drug, which is expected to generate just $7 million in sales this year. ZymoGenetics also suffered a painful setback in October, when that lead experimental drug, atacicept, failed in a clinical trial of lupus for the kidneys because it raised the risk of infections. The company’s stock market value has been slashed by more than 70 percent this year, and it now has less than two years’ worth of cash reserves on hand. Its stock closed yesterday at $3.22.

That means Williams will have a tough job, especially in this grim economic climate. But no one can argue that Carter has accomplished big things at ZymoGenetics, which now has 500 employees. Carter joined the company in 1986 as vice president of research and development, following a stint at British pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle. He experienced the thrill of the 1980s boom in biotech, and was in line to get rich through an initial public offering in 1987, only to see that hope dashed by the stock market crash that year. A year later, ZymoGenetics agreed to be acquired by Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest maker of insulin for diabetes. Novo continued to invest in ZymoGenetics as its U.S. research wing, and Carter presided over the branch from 1988 to 1994. He was then promoted to chief scientific officer of the parent company, giving him access to the inner management circle, allowing him the clout to get ample scientific resources for his scientists in Seattle, as well as colorful artwork spread throughout its South Lake Union headquarters. … Next Page »

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