Dendreon May Not Survive Its Success: Q&A with Founder Chris Henney, Part 2

7/28/09Follow @xconomy

Yesterday, we brought Xconomy readers the first installment of a conversation with Christopher Henney, the co-founder of Seattle’s three most successful biotech companies of the past 30 years—Immunex, Icos, and Dendreon. The first two companies ended up getting acquired—Immunex for $10 billion in 2002, and Icos for $2.3 billion in 2007. Now that Dendreon has had a big success with its prostate cancer treatment, sipuleucel-T (Provenge), and has built a market capitalization of $2.45 billion, it seems likely to get acquired as well.

Here are edited highlights of the second half of the conversation, in which Henney elaborates on why manufacturing is so important to Dendreon, Medicare reimbursement for the expensive new drug will be critical, and what it all means for the future of Seattle biotechnology:

Xconomy: What about the state of Seattle biotech? What kind of shape do you think it’s in compared to, say, five or 10 years ago?

Chris Henney: It’s a good question. We do need an anchor tenant. I’m doing my part to try to persuade a few companies to move here. I was involved with Ken Ferguson of Icos in bringing a company from Australia here. I have a friend who is moving a company here. This remains a very vibrant place. One of the things I’m doing in retirement is trying to encourage small companies to move here. The company came from Australia because it’s easier to raise funds here. It’s easier to recruit people here. It’s still one of the centers of biotechnology. It doesn’t compare with San Diego, and it doesn’t compare with Boston. And we do lack an anchor tenant. That would be nice. Dendreon is clearly that tenant at this point in time. But we’ll see if it survives its own success, if you like.

X: Which companies are you involved with these days, whether on the board or as an adviser?

CH: One is Oncothyreon, where I’m chairman. I’m involved with a company in Australia in the vaccine space. I’m involved with Cyclacel, a company in New Jersey that Xcyte bought, and we took the name. I’m involved with what I think will be a very important company in the Bay Area called Anthera. It’s a spectacular company, and a private one. A very good story. And AVI Biopharma.

X: How old are you now?

CH: Too old to be doing this. 68. But it’s what I do, right? It really does become part of your identity. You can see why people carry on working in retirement. It is what you are. Your identity … Next Page »

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  • Gloria Johnson

    Thanks Luke for the excellent interview of Chris Henney and for your continued education of the public on the Dendreon story. It will be interesting to see what unfolds for Dendreon in the coming year: FDA approval of Provenge, ROW partnership, possible sale of the company. I look forward to your continued coverage.

  • Gary Glass

    Dendreon is truly a success story and an excellent investment for me and many others who believed in the science behind Provenge.