Bristol-Myers Cuts Clinical Team at ZymoGenetics Seattle Site

11/7/13Follow @xconomy

[Update: 2:50 pm PT] Bristol-Myers Squibb has laid off as many as 20 people in its clinical development/operations group at ZymoGenetics in Seattle as part of a companywide R&D restructuring, Xconomy has learned.

New York-based Bristol-Myers acquired ZymoGenetics for about $885 million in October 2010, and pledged a few months later to retain the remaining 275 employees at the Seattle biotech company. Bristol-Myers allowed the local operation keep its landmark headquarters, the former City Light Steam Plant, and its ZymoGenetics identity and brand logo on the sign above the door on Eastlake Avenue East.

Overall, about 75 people at Bristol-Myers are affected by the cutbacks, according to spokeswoman Laura Hortas. The ZymoGenetics  workers will be able to bid for transfers within the company if they choose to relocate to New Jersey, she said.

The ZymoGenetics site had about 150 employees left heading into today’s cuts, Hortas said.

The cuts at Bristol-Myers Squibb extend across the company, as it issued a statement on its website saying it is “discontinuing broad based discovery work in hepatitis C, diabetes and neuroscience.” The company is making those cuts so it can put more money into cancer immunotherapy and continue to focus on HIV, hepatitis B, heart failure, oncology, immunoscience, and fibrotic diseases. Bristol-Myers’s overall statement didn’t include any numbers on financial cost savings from the moves, nor did it indicate how many people are affected companywide.

Just last week, I spoke to a Bristol-Myers vice president who spoke positively about a rheumatoid arthritis drug called clazakizumab that it licensed from Bothell, WA-based Alder Biopharmaceuticals. No mention was made in today’s statement about that program in particular, but Hortas, the Bristol-Myers spokeswoman, said that program isn’t affected by the cutbacks.

While ZymoGenetics had a reputation for attracting some of the brightest minds in Seattle biotech, Bristol-Myers has gotten more mileage the past couple years out of other recent acquisitions. ZymoGenetics was best known at the time of acquisition for creating a form of interferon alpha that was supposed to be useful for hepatitis C treatment, because it came with fewer side effects than the original. That advance has been upstaged since by other interferon-free cocktail regimens in development by Gilead Sciences, AbbVie, and Johnson & Johnson. Recently, Bristol-Myers has been compelled to pour more resources into an increasingly exciting cancer immunotherapy program that it obtained in 2009 through its acquisition of Princeton, NJ-based Medarex.

It’s a particularly tough time for the ZymoGenetics clinical team to be thrown out of work, given the dim state of the local biotech job market. Dendreon has slashed hundreds of jobs after bungling the rollout of its trailblazing immunotherapy for prostate cancer. While there are a few other publicly traded biotechs left in Seattle—Oncothyreon, OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals, Omeros—only one has a significant amount of cash in the bank and a lot of job openings. That’s Seattle Genetics, which has 32 open jobs posted on its website today.

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  • Robert Jones

    Why is there no mention of the clazakizumab data on the Alder website? There was a milestone payment for starting the trial. What about ending it with positive results?

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    Robert—clazakizumab is the new name for ALD518. Alder still owns the rights to that drug for cancer, and lists it on its website under pipeline programs.