[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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or to me personally at email@example.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.
—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
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