Some Notes on Immunex

11/29/11

I received a call from Steve Duzan in the spring of 1981 saying that he had been offered the position of CEO of a new company, Immunex. If he accepted, he wanted to know if I would be willing to be outside legal counsel. He briefly told me that Immunex was a biotech company being formed by Steve Gillis and Chris Henney, two scientists who had discovered something called IL-2 and were leaving the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to launch Immunex.

I am not sure whether Duzan or I was the least qualified to be involved in a biotech company. Duzan had been CEO of two small non-tech private companies, Cello Bag Co. and North Star Ice Equipment Corp, which manufactured ice making equipment. I was a corporate/securities lawyer at Perkins Coie mostly handling public offerings for Boeing and Puget Sound Power & Light and the beginnings of an emerging tech practice. I could tell you a lot about aircraft and dams, but nothing about biotech other than that Genentech, founded a few years before, was doing something with DNA and had gone public in 1980, raising $35 million. I don’t think that I was aware of Amgen, which had been founded the year before, in 1980.

Needless to say, Duzan and I both said yes.

I had known Duzan beginning in 1967 when he and I were part of a group called CHECC, Choose an Effective City Council, which had been composed of then Young Turks who banded together to replace a staid city council with reformers Tim Hill and Phyllis Lamphere and later John Miller and Bruce Chapman.

Our first task was to negotiate a license agreement with the Hutch so as to secure the technology that Gillis and Henney had developed. License agreements were novel territory for Duzan and me, but I quickly looked at some treatises and sample license agreements. The Hutch was willing to take stock instead of cash. When we offered 25,000 shares, they countered with 50,000 shares. We accepted. I don’t remember anyone asking about percentages.

Another early task was to negotiate a rental agreement for offices. Immunex had identified some space in a Martin Selig building on Queen Anne Hill near Seattle Center. Duzan and I went to Selig’s office to negotiate a lease with him and after some initial skirmishes, we agreed on the terms. Selig seemed positive, so we were shocked to hear from him a few days later that he couldn’t lease the space to Immunex because his bank, Seattle First, didn’t think Immunex was viable and wouldn’t lend to him against the lease. SeaFirst shortly thereafter lost enormous amounts on its loans in Oklahoma to speculative oil companies and was taken over by Bank of America. Selig has managed much better and today is a friendly landlord to tech companies.

Immunex’s initial equity capital was provided later in 1981 by Cable & Howse, Seattle’s earliest institutional venture capital firm. Tom Cable and Woody Howse were the pioneers of … Next Page »

Tom Alberg is a managing director of Madrona Venture Group in Seattle. Follow @

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  • http://www.soundpharma.com Jonathan

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your wonderful story regarding the humble beginnings of the most successful biotech in Seattle’s history. They provide a basis and inspiration for next generation of entrepeneurs trying to do something similar.