The Icos Alumni: Where Are They Now?

11/18/09Follow @xconomy

[Update: 9:41 pm Pacific, 9/7/10] Icos was once the great hope for Seattle biotech. Founded in 1990 with an investment from Bill Gates, it went on over the next 15 years to create a $1 billion molecule for treating erectile dysfunction, and employed about 700 people nationwide at its peak. For a while, it looked like it would carry the torch as the only big, independent, profitable biotech company with growth potential and staying power in the Seattle area.

That hope was dashed about three years ago, when Icos agreed to be acquired by its partner, Eli Lilly, ultimately for about $2.3 billion. Many readers will remember the controversy over this deal, which I covered with intensity through the fall of 2006 for The Seattle Times. Employees who had worked together for years and built a great camaraderie were deeply upset with CEO Paul Clark, who enriched himself with a $23 million golden parachute through the transaction while kicking most of them to the unemployment line. Shareholders objected to what they saw as a sweetheart deal for management, and ultimately forced Lilly to raise its bid before they handed over their shares.

Even Icos’s founding CEO and legendary leader, George Rathmann, who was not in good health at the time, objected to what had become of the company he created. It had essentially squandered an entire pipeline of drug candidates in the wake of its hit with tadalafil (Cialis), leaving no real opportunity for an encore, and no real strategic alternatives other than getting bought by Lilly.

About 550 people were employed locally at Icos at the time the Lilly acquisition closed in January 2007, and about 350 high-paying local jobs were cut. All that was left was a contract biotech drug manufacturing facility, which Lilly didn’t want, and sold to CMC, a Danish company that continues to operate at the old Icos facility in Bothell today.

But now that three years have gone by, what happened to all that intellectual capital that came to create exciting new biotech drugs for Icos? This is an important question for the future of Seattle biotech, given how companies that look to start or expand to new locations always consider the caliber of the local workforce as one of the main criteria.

From what I’ve been able to gather by talking to some very helpful former Icosians, I’ve discovered that quite a few of these bright people have stayed in the Seattle region. Some left for new opportunities elsewhere, usually after they couldn’t find suitable work in Seattle. Quite a few more than I expected have gone on to co-found or play critical technical roles in some intriguing startups—including Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, CoCrystal Discovery, Mirina, Theraclone Sciences, and Xori.

What follows here is a list of more than 270 names I’ve been able to gather from people who had made contributions to the science, medical, or business aspects of Icos. Special thanks go out to the following Icos alumni who were hugely helpful in allowing me to piece this list together: David Crowe of Mirina; Pat Gray of Accelerator; Ed Kesicki, Allen Casey, and Stephanie Florio of the Infectious Disease Research Institute; and Albert Yu of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals.

Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive. I’ve done my best to verify everybody’s connection to Icos through their LinkedIn profiles or from other sites—but I haven’t been able to confirm every name referred to me. Some people haven’t kept their profiles up to date on LinkedIn or on other sources. So if you can think of former Icos alumni who I’ve overlooked, or if you see any mistakes, please send us an e-mail at editors@xconomy.com, or to me personally at ltimmerman@xconomy.com. Or feel free to post a comment at the bottom of the story. I figure this is a starting point for what could be a valuable networking resource.

Lee Adams, research scientist, Institute for Systems Biology

Janet Adolphson, senior research scientist, AMRI

Laura Afflerbaugh, research associate, Genentech

Brian Albarran, senior scientist, Trubion Pharmaceuticals

Lynn Allen, founder, Allen Clinical Research

Roberta Allen, senior director of medical writing and editing, Sunesis Pharmaceuticals [Added 12/30/09]

Dan Allison, senior director of therapeutic design, VLST

Juli Ashburn, senior field force automation administrator, ZymoGenetics

Eric Austin, senior toxicology consultant, Veritox

Connie Ave-Teel, manager, lab support, CMC Icos

Tim Axtelle, vice president of product development, Allozyne

Susan Aznoff, owner, Petlane Pals

Lauret Ballsun, owner, LBC Pharmaceutical Professionals

Cari Barthe, recruiting project manager, NWRPros

Ted Baughman, senior scientist, chemistry, Saltigo

Chan Beals, senior director, Merck

Subru Bhat, vice president of quality assurance, Xenoport [Added Jan. 21, 2010]

Kelly Bickley, quality control associate scientist, CMC Icos

Julie Birashk, process development associate, CMC Icos

Bodil Bjorner, development associate, CMC Icos

Kyla Bjornson, senior research associate, Gilead Sciences

Kim Black-Washington, director of marketing and strategic development, Xcelience

Leonard Blum, senior vice president and chief commercial officer, Theravance … Next Page »

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  • http://www.northcoastbio.com Johnny T. Stine

    I actually loved our logo – very simple, but it just looked like fun.
    When George R. was recently asked by a reporter from an Everett newspaper about building Icos into a company like Amgen….he replied “…..why would I stop there?”. With a leader like that, like George, one who inspires with energetic goals such as that mentioned – we could’ve done it. We had the tools and the ability to do just that. We had great people who’ve all proven themselves in places before and afterward…….but imagine what we could’ve done behind the hopes of a great leader like George who set that tone….a CEO who knew all of our names, someone who would talk to you like you were a valued asset, a guy that empowered us via ownership. Imagine what we could’ve done…..because that’s all we’re left to do.

    By the way- Luke – I prefer Icosanoids – a play on the word eicosanoid since we were primarily an inflammation company. :-)

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

    Johnny—Unfortunately, I never really got to know George very well because he had already left Icos by the time I started covering the company in 2001. But I made a point of meeting him at his home once a couple years ago when I was based in San Francisco. He wasn’t in great health, but he was still sharp and very much curious about the latest happenings in biotech.

    I haven’t heard the term Icosanoids from eicosanoid, but that made me laugh this morning. It sounds like something from Star Trek. Anybody know if this was also the inspiration for the term “Immunoids” for people who used to work at Immunex?

  • http://www.BiotechStockResearch.com David Miller

    Nice work, Luke. Goes to prove that even though we might lose companies through acquisition we’d really rather keep, it’s not like everything connected with the company disappears. By my eye, the “loss” of Icos created at least a half-dozen new companies and significantly strengthened a dozen or more startups. A nice silver lining.

  • Abby Kliphardt

    Nice article…good to see where my co-workers have ended. I loved my time at ICOS and will always lament the loss of a great company that was a real family….

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