The Immunex Impact: Some Great Memories and Photos

12/2/11Follow @xconomy

What was it, I asked last night, that made Immunex so special? Co-founder Steve Gillis summed it all up pretty succinctly, as usual.

“It was the people,” Gillis said.

The brainpower, entrepreneurial spirit, good humor, and camaraderie from Seattle’s pioneering biotech company were all on display last night at our big event, “The Immunex Impact.” More than 200 people came out for this rare gathering, 10 years after the Amgen-Immunex merger was announced. At least one person came from as far away as Georgia, for a chance to re-connect with old friends.

There were lots of funny and revealing stories shared by speakers during the program. Here are some of my favorite memories from last night:

Dave Urdal, the even-keeled chief scientific officer of Dendreon, may have had the zinger of the night when he roasted Gillis. “To understand Steve’s unique dry and cynical sense of humor, I disclosed during my remarks on the advent of his departure from Immunex in 1994 that Steve suffered from the rare condition known as opticalrectalitis, where the optic nerve is connected directly to the rectum—leading to Steve having a perpetual shitty outlook on life.”

Janis Wignall, the longtime Immunoid, did her best Gillis imitation, by donning a baseball cap and mimicking his gruff, growly voice when she made her pitch to leave the lab bench and start doing science education community outreach. “What if I say no?” Wignall recalled Gillis grumbling. He may have just been testing her. He agreed to the proposal, saying “you’ve done 10 years of good work, so go ahead.”

Stewart Parker shared the story of how back in the early days at 51 University St., a certain young couple liked to “exhibit” their affection on the rooftop of an adjacent apartment building. Whenever someone at Immunex spotted such extracurricular activity going on, they had to share a certain code word over the intercom system to notify colleagues. “Sherman Oaks on Line 2,” was the signal, Parker recalled, for Immunoids to check it out.

There were many more where that came from, but for a lot of these memories, you just had to be there. Special thanks go out to the Institute for Systems Biology for hosting this event, and to our event sponsors Fenwick & West, Cooley, and the ISB. And, I really want to thank Tyler Sipe for capturing much of the spirit of this event in this superb collection of photos. Enjoy.

Here’s Tyler’s website, if you’d like to see more.

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The Immunex Impact – Networking before the program got started at the Institute for Systems Biology.
photo by Tyler Sipe

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