Who’s Hiring in Seattle Biotech? It’s Not All Layoffs, All the Time

12/10/08Follow @xconomy

(UPDATE: This story has added information at the end about openings at the Institute for Systems Biology.)

Mass firings dominate the news almost every day now, yet some companies are still hiring. Since a lot of highly-skilled and experienced people have been thrown out of work lately, I thought I’d check around to see where some of these talented folks might end up, and which organizations in Seattle’s life sciences industry are poised to benefit.

Here’s a rundown of the companies that have continued to grow in the recession for one reason or another. This isn’t a comprehensive list, so if you know of a life sciences organization I’m overlooking, please send me a note at editors@xconomy.com and I’ll make sure to update the story. We also want to hear from people hiring in other industries, like Seattle-based Big Fish Games, so give us a shout.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The world’s largest philanthropy is still plenty rich, even in a recession, and still planning to hire quite a few people to make sure it invests its fortune wisely in global health, global development, and education. The Seattle-based foundation had 686 employees as of Oct. 1, and hired about 200 people in the past year. The foundation expects to expand its headcount by another 10 percent in the coming year, adding about 70 new jobs. The openings are for people with a range of skills from basic science through administration.

Much of this growth is being fueled by investor Warren Buffett. The Omaha billionaire and friend of Bill Gates is giving the foundation much of his fortune, which was worth $31 billion at the time of the pledge in 2006. The annual installments of stock donations that were actually given were worth $1.6 billion in 2006, $1.76 billion the following year, and $1.8 billion this past July, according to the foundation’s website.

Seattle Genetics

The Bothell, WA-based developer of cancer drugs has been on a roll this year, ever since its SGN-35 drug candidate showed impressive tumor shrinkage rates in a small study of people with Hodgkin’s disease. Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) has hired about 65 people so far in 2008, mostly in its clinical and manufacturing/development groups, says spokeswoman Peggy Pinkston, in an email. She notes that SGN-35 is being primed for pivotal trials, the kind that can lead to FDA approval if successful, starting in the first half of 2009. It currently has 11 open positions on its website.

Novo Nordisk

The Danish drugmaker, the world’s largest maker of insulin for diabetes, announced it is opening up an immunology research center in Seattle with plans to hire 80 people by 2010. Based on job postings the company listed in August, it said it was looking for director-level people and scientific staff in cellular immunology and molecular immunology assay technology. The Seattle research center plans to identify and test protein drug candidates for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease. I’m planning to interview site leader Don Foster soon to learn more about exactly what Novo has in mind.

Cepheid

This Sunnyvale, CA-based maker of molecular diagnostic tools has built up a 30-person chemistry R&D unit in Bothell, WA over the past four years, and it is looking to grow, CEO John Bishop told me last week in an interview.

Cepheid only lists one job opening in Washington state on its website, but Bishop said the company plans to snap up an undisclosed number of highly-skilled people in Washington state to build up manufacturing capacity near its chemistry team. Manufacturing of specialized probes and primers will have to be kept close to this unit in Bothell, because, Bishop says, “It’s high-value work for us, and we want to keep it with technically competent individuals.” The company has seen its revenues grow from $12 million six years ago to more than $170 million expected this year, so it has some enviable flexibility in hiring.

Cepheid’s chief medical and technology officer, David Persing, also has a strong Seattle tie. He was the chief scientific officer of Seattle-based Corixa until it was sold to GlaxoSmithKline in 2005.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

I counted 34 job openings for external candidates on “The Hutch’s” website listed since Nov. 1, ranging from lab aides to a statistical researcher to a staff scientist. The Hutch has more than 3,000 employees, so this isn’t exactly a hiring binge, and I know people there are watching to see what President-elect Barack Obama decides to do with the budget for the National Institutes of Health, the main rainmaker for scientists at the center.

The Hutchinson Center is mainly looking for scientists, lab technicians, and postdoctoral research fellows, said Han Nachtrieb, the center’s vice president for human resources. But be warned, the competition for these jobs is fierce. “We’re seeing a lot more resumes coming in,” Nachtrieb says. “I’d say it’s doubled or more in the last two months. It’s palpable.”

PATH

The Seattle-based nonprofit, which works to improve global health, has 40 jobs posted on its website in various commercialization, human resources, and public health jobs. About a dozen openings are in Seattle. The organization has been growing rapidly for years, and now has more than 700 employees worldwide. It got a boost in September, when it was awarded another $168.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to administer the Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

But even at a fast-growing place like PATH, it sounds like the downturn memo has gone around to cool things down a bit. “PATH’s growth is driven by increasing interest and investment in global health,” says spokeswoman Amy MacIver, in an e-mail. “In response to today’s uncertain economy, we are focused on strategic hiring opportunites in key areas that will have the greatest impact on our ability to fulfill PATH’s mission and commitment to addressing global health inequities around the world.”

CMC Icos Biologics

CMC Icos Biologics, a company in Bothell, WA that manufactures biotech drugs for other companies on contracts, plans to expand its factory capacity and double in size to 250 employees over the next three to four years. These jobs require some technician-level training, but aren’t something for people with a Ph.D in molecular biology or biochemistry.

Seattle Biomedical Research Institute

The SBRI, a nonprofit center that studies diseases of the developing world, has 10 openings posted on its web site, and is planning to fill them as part of its continued growth, says spokeswoman Lee Schoentrup in an e-mail. Some of the jobs are related to its addition of a Malaria Clinical Trials Center, and others are coming with a new principal investigator, Nick Crispe, who is joining in the coming year, she says.

Institute for Systems Biology

The ISB, a nonprofit research center led by biotech pioneer Leroy Hood, is growing to carry out an additional $35 million in grant work awarded by the National Institutes of Health, says spokesman Todd Langton. It has 10 open positions posted on its website, including a faculty gig, a couple of research associate posts, and three postdoctoral fellowships.

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  • Seattle

    Nanostring Technologies, 3 jobs
    http://www.nanostring.com/jobs.html

  • http://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/wp-admin/ Richard

    It is really great to read about companies that are hiring. Research still needs to be done, even in a horrible economy.

    A large fraction, if not a majority, of the PhD level positions appear to be found at non-profit research institutions. The biotech companies appear to mainly want more entry-level technical positions.

    This seems to be continuing a trend of research being performed at non-profit institutions while corporations are interested mainly in development and clinical trials. Technology is being nurtured for a longer period of time in non-profits, before corporations take the ball and run with it.

    Thus the different needs for biotech companies and non-profit research institutions.

  • http://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/wp-admin/ Richard

    I wanted to say thanks, Luke. It is this sort of ‘personalized’ news and reporting that makes Xconomy so much fun to read. This is not an article I would be likely to read in any of the MSM.

    I stopped my Times subscription some time ago and get my news online. Xconomy is a must to find out what is happening locally. Nice job.

    .