The Rosetta Diaspora: Genetics Talent Stays Close to Home After Merck Shuts Down in Seattle

9/2/09Follow @xconomy

Merck was the only Big Pharma company with a toehold in Seattle a year ago, so when it decided to shut down its Rosetta Inpharmatics research center last October as part of global cost-cutting, some local biotechies moaned about how this was another sign of the apocalypse for a once-thriving life sciences scene.

But after almost a full year, the picture is more clear: Merck’s closure of Rosetta didn’t hurt the Northwest as much as many people thought at first, and it might even spur more innovation.

Rosetta has long held symbolic importance to Seattle biotech, because it was one of the region’s big biotech success stories of the 1990s before it was bought by Merck for more than $620 million in 2001. Merck spent gobs of money building it a shiny new Vulcan facility in South Lake Union, and trying to integrate Rosetta’s cutting-edge genetic analysis tools throughout its global research centers. The hope was to give scientists a better idea of which drugs were likely to succeed or fail in clinical trials, and to determine which patients might respond differently from others. About 300 people worked there at the peak when the closure was announced last fall.

Where has all of this genetics talent gone? Merck wanted to recruit about 100 people to its research centers on the East Coast, and about 70 people accepted those offers, says Doug Bassett, Merck’s executive director of molecular profiling and head of the Seattle site which is still winding down. But an even larger number, about 110 people, have remained in Seattle to carry on work related to what they did at Rosetta in other organizations. That certainly leaves some people who lost their jobs and may or may not have landed on their feet, but it’s clear that many Rosetta alumni, maybe even a majority, will continue to contribute to the local life sciences cluster.

“What started with a perception of a shutdown of a site has been translated into the sowing of seeds for new research that can grow,” says Bassett.

The Rosetta talent pool has branched out … Next Page »

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  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    From 9-10 am today, I’ll be at Uptown Espresso on Westlake and Republican St near Rosetta. So if anybody wants to pass along any pieces to the story I may have missed, tell me I’m full of beans, or just say Hi, I’d love to chat.

    Luke

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ltimmerman/ Luke Timmerman

    One former Rosetta employee who wrote to me directly has a different take, saying the Rosetta shutdown turned out worse than expected. That’s because the Rosetta Biosoftware group had 55 employees, and only about 20 were retained by Microsoft and Ceiba, while Sage was expected at one point to take on 30-40 people. A few Rosetta alums have snapped up jobs in academia, at Amgen, and Novo Nordisk, but that still leaves quite a few who are unemployed or underemployed.

  • KnowledgeMan

    I would agree that the spin from Doug is exaggerated. There are many good people that must fend for themselves as a result of the Rosetta site closure. It is hardly a positive event in the Seattle biotech community.