ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams Exits the Stage, Mulls Next Free Agent Move

11/8/10Follow @xconomy

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the managing partner for Frazier Healthcare Ventures, a Seattle investment firm with $1.8 billion under management. “Think about how many middle sized pharmas and big pharmas are building up their biological side of the house. The bigger companies would love to have an action oriented guy deep in research running that side of the house. I think, however, the most interest will be from biotech companies that need the experience of a guy like Doug. He has been a corporate exec at two relatively big, public biotech companies. He has been a director of several companies as well, providing him excellent perspective. There aren’t a ton of those kinds of people.”

Still, I have to wonder if the guy Bruce Carter called a “lion” feels he didn’t roar as loud as he could have at ZymoGenetics. David Miller, president of Biotech Stock Research in Seattle, figures that pegylated interferon lambda alone will be a $1 billion annual seller for Bristol-Myers as a treatment for hepatitis C—which makes an $885 million corporate takeover look like chump change.

It’s also clear that Bristol got more than just that one drug with blockbuster potential. It has the opportunity to combine its own drug, ipilimumab—which disables a biological mechanism tumors use to shield themselves from the immune system—with the IL-21 drug from ZymoGenetics which stimulates the immune system to fight tumors more aggressively. That could become a potent one-two combination treatment against melanoma, although significant clinical trials will have to be run to prove that.

Miller didn’t mince words in a recent post on Minyanville about what this deal means for Bristol. “They stole one here,” he wrote. “Mark my words.”

I’m sure Williams would never say anything like that in public, and I don’t know what he really thinks now about the sale of ZymoGenetics, in his heart of hearts. But I did ask him clearly when he took the top job in January 2009 about his hopes and dreams for ZymoGenetics over the coming decade. I asked him specifically about whether he would try to avoid a fire sale to a Big Pharma company, given his company was in such a vulnerable position at the time. Here’s what he said then:

“In the next five to 10 years, I’d like to see ZymoGenetics become another Immunex,” Williams said. “We want to stay an independent company.”

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