The impact of today’s FDA approval of Dendreon’s prostate cancer drug is being covered exhaustively from every angle on the Web. There’s the company saga, the benefit for prostate cancer patients, the boost to the field of cancer immunotherapy research, and the stock market surge.
But one thing that’s not lost on Dendreon CEO Mitch Gold is what this means to Seattle, the community where he lives, where the company is based, and which has lacked a powerhouse independent biotech company since Immunex got acquired by Amgen in 2002. Gold, 43, has made it plain since the day he took the Dendreon leadership job in 2002 that his aspiration is to make Dendreon the next great biotech company from Seattle.
When he took the job, I quoted him in The Seattle Times saying: “We’re not talking about building a $500 million or a $1 billion company. That’s too low,” Gold said. “We’re building something here much more durable, and much bigger.”
Eight years later, the company is now worth $6.7 billion, and Provenge is finally approved. “This is great for Seattle biotech,” Gold said this afternoon. “Now we have an anchor tenant again.”
Dendreon currently has about 650 employees, Gold says, and it is continuing to grow fast to keep up with the demand for sipuleucel-T (Provenge). The company still has more than 150 job openings on its website, with more than 60 of them at the Seattle headquarters, and most of the rest at factories in New Jersey, Georgia, and southern California.
It’s a dramatically different group of people than were at Dendreon just 12 months ago, when the company had only 200 employees, and wasn’t even sure if its drug would pass its pivotal clinical trial. But Dendreon has been transformed in this past year, raising more than $630 million from investors for the Provenge commercial push. Its stock has rocketed to more than $50 at today’s close, giving the company a market valuation of more than $6.7 billion. “Dendreon is probably now one of the top five biotech companies in the world,” Gold says, based on market value.
That sounded pretty shocking to me for a company that still hasn’t booked its first sale. By my count, Dendreon isn’t in the top 5, but it is in the top 10 now. Here’s a list of the top biopharmaceutical companies by market cap that I follow (please let me know if I’m forgetting anybody, and I’ll update below).
|Company||Market cap, Apr. 29
|Gilead Sciences||$36.4 billion|
|Biogen Idec||$14.2 billion|
|Vertex Pharmaceuticals||$7.9 billion|
So how did Gold first hear the news today? Turns out he was on his way to the office in Seattle when he got a phone call from his vice president of regulatory affairs, Liz Smith, one of the mainstays at the company for years. “It was one happy moment,” Gold said.
By the time Gold had parked and made his way into the office, employees were already buzzing around the hallways and congratulating each other. The company issued its press release at 11 am, held a conference call with analysts at 11:30 am local time, and had a quick all-employee meeting in its auditorium. Gold specifically singled out Smith, and chief scientist David Urdal, for their dedication through the years of some serious ups and downs before today’s approval.
“I knew it was going to be great when this came, but I didn’t really know how great it would feel,” Gold says.
By the time I filed the first two stories today and made it to the company’s offices at 2 pm, it was quiet, except for one lonely security guard, and a single TV crew on the sidewalk. Clearly, the party had moved somewhere else. Rick Hamm, the company’s senior vice president of corporate development, told me that the sales and marketing guys were into the champagne before noon and weren’t around the office much longer.
They are certainly entitled to enjoy the moment, but everybody there knows there will be tons of work piling up on the Dendreon team almost immediately. There’s handling patients who might be unhappy they won’t be able to get Provenge. There’s the effort to keep manufacturing on track, and build out its extra capacity as fast as possible. There will be delicate negotiations with insurers to get them to pay for a $93,000 drug. Almost immediately, Wall Street will start wondering what’s next, and Dendreon will have to show investors that it’s not a one-hit wonder, and that it can plug and play other cancer drugs into its proprietary immune-boosting platform.
How long will Gold and the team actually get to celebrate? He laughed at that question, but said he’ll savor the moment tonight for sure with friends and colleagues. Then next week, he said he’ll be flying to New Jersey to see the first patient’s white blood cells roll off the factory floor in a commercial setting.
“The best moment will be when I get to see that happen,” Gold says.