ZymoGenetics Will Be Missed. How Seattle Biotech Can Recover and Thrive
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is currently functioning in this capacity as well. Their hiring surge in the past few years has been a tremendous boon for biotech employment and image in the region. Interestingly, the unconventional nature of Dendreon’s first “drug” Provenge (an individualized treatment for prostate cancer) has held potential acquirers at bay while they struggle to understand the business model and gauge its success. It has also goosed a renaissance in immunotherapy research in the biotechnology community.
I guess I look at the ZymoGenetics acquisition in the same way that people in Cleveland look at the loss of LeBron James to the Miami Heat. They spent years watching him develop his game to the highest level, only to see him depart just when they were hoping for greatness. Yes, it was his decision to leave, but would the fans be less upset if he had been traded to Miami for a second round draft choice just so the team could save payroll? Publicly traded biotechs are supposed to be acting in the best interests of their shareholders, but this may not align with the best interests of their employees or the greater public at large. To throw in one more sports analogy, the Green Bay Packers thrive in the smallest market of any team in professional sports. However, because the people in Green Bay actually own the team, they never have to worry about them leaving town for a bigger market. Could such a model work in biotech?
Carl is right when he says biotech is a risky business due to the possibility of being either shut down or acquired. It is not for the timid. However, I can envision a different scenario, not one of growth, acquisition, and reinvention, but of growth and expansion. PATH, Seattle BioMed, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are all organizations that have grown tremendously in recent years. Seattle is now recognized as a world leader in global health as a result of the strong efforts of some of these groups along with significant funding from the Gates Foundation. Why not have as a goal doing the same thing here on the biotechnology side? In an Xconomy piece I wrote last year, I put forth two proposals for stimulating the local biotech industry. These were (1) the attraction of anchor tenant(s) to stabilize jobs, and (2) to establish a non-profit biopharmaceutical organization that could not be acquired. The response I received on these suggestions was uniformly positive. Focusing on the second proposal, take a look at organizations like the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation in Rockville, MD, the Institute for One World Health in San Francisco, the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington, DC, and Cancer Research Technology Ltd. in the UK. Though they are structured differently and work in distinct areas, they are all focused on creating new treatments for diseases within an organizational structure that is meant to keep them independent. Not being publicly traded, they are not available to be sold, which, on the employment side of the ledger, is a tremendous advantage. Maybe we could create a similar type of institution here? This is something else that we can reflect on as the ZymoGenetics acquisition sorts itself out in the days and weeks ahead.