Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb scoped out the neighborhood for a couple months, and has decided to put down roots in Seattle.
The New York-based pharmaceutical giant (NYSE: BMY), which spent $885 million to acquire ZymoGenetics in October, has decided to maintain its presence here, according to Chris Rivera, the president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.
“My understanding is that there are 275 people there, and they are all being retained, and they were told this morning in a meeting with senior management,” Rivera says. He said he wasn’t sure what Bristol’s real estate plans were for ZymoGenetics’ historic Steam Plant headquarters, or its other properties.
A voicemail and e-mail message sent to a Bristol-Myers Squibb spokeswoman weren’t immediately returned.
The decision by the pharmaceutical giant is surely a sigh of relief for Rivera and a bunch of local policymakers who were dreading the possibility of yet another big pharma takeover leading to mass layoffs in the local biotech community. That’s what happened before with local biotech stars Immunex, Icos, Corixa, and eventually Rosetta Inpharmatics, and quite a few biotechies expected a similar fate to strike ZymoGenetics, the venerable biotech founded in 1981. Many of ZymoGenetics’ senior managers have already left for new jobs, including former CEO Doug Williams, but those who are still working at Zymo’s offices on Eastlake Avenue now have some more security in knowing Bristol wants to stay in Seattle.
Bristol agreed to acquire ZymoGenetics back in September, saying then that it wanted to obtain full ownership of a drug for hepatitis C called pegylated interferon lambda. This product, which I wrote about earlier today, surely became more valuable after Bristol closed the Zymo deal, because a competing drug failed to show it could make the Zymo product obsolete in a clinical trial. At the time of acquisition, ZymoGenetics executives couldn’t promise that Bristol wanted the ZymoGenetics people, as well as the ZymoGenetics assets, but they suggested the deal might not end in mass layoffs. Former chief financial officer Jim Johnson told me in September that Bristol’s pattern with past acquisitions—Princeton, NJ-based Medarex, and Waltham, MA-based Adnexus Therapeutics—suggested that it may want to retain people with expertise in biotech R&D like those at Zymo.
Having Bristol retain a presence is critically important to the region, in that it helps provide stability to the local biotech job market, Rivera says. “”Having a mix of large pharma, large biotech, large device companies is important to keep our job ebb and flow more steady. It helps to recruit executives from outside the regio,” he says.
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