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Stewart Parker: Biotech Thoughts On Gene Therapy, GOP & Trout Streams

Xconomy Seattle — 

H. Stewart Parker is the former CEO of Seattle’s Targeted Genetics, a pioneering gene therapy company that fizzled out after nearly 20 years but helped pave the way for a new generation of companies, such as Bluebird Bio and Spark Therapeutics, that are moving gene therapies through the clinic. Parker spent time at the head of the Infectious Disease Research Institute, also in Seattle, and is now a director of several biotechs including the gene editing specialists Sangamo Biosciences. We caught up with her to ask a few end of year questions. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Xconomy: What will happen if a Republican is elected president in 2016 and the Affordable Care Act is dismantled?

Stewart Parker: The question is moot. The Republicans are so badly disorganized that Hillary Clinton has a clear path to the White House in 2016.

X: Have you been sequenced? If yes, did you find anything interesting? If no, what would prompt you to do it?

SP: I haven’t been sequenced. I think at this point the cost-benefit ratio is not there. From looking at my relatives and monitoring my health pretty closely, I think I would be better off spending the money on fresh healthy food, exercise, and optimizing my mental health by having fun with friends and enjoying activities I’m passionate about.

X: The first gene therapy to gain approval in the West, Glybera, came from UniQure a couple years ago, in Europe. But the product has yet to launch, and UniQure apparently isn’t seeking approval for Glybera in the U.S. What’s your outlook on gene therapies being approved and widely used by 2020?

SP: Having been an early pioneer in gene therapy (Targeted Genetics, 1992-2008), I believe strongly that gene therapy has a major role in the armamentarium of how we treat a number of diseases.  Yes, it has taken a while, as did monoclonal antibodies. If you are including the area of gene editing in that question, as well, then I think there are a number of exciting opportunities focused on somatic cell transformation at this point. We need to proceed cautiously in the application of gene editing to non-somatic cells.

X: Drug pricing will be a top issue in 2016. Will the noise actually lead to changes?

SP: I think the sector would be wise to examine its practices and make changes prior to being forced to. The censure of Turing Pharmaceuticals, and even Valeant [Pharmaceuticals International], is an example. The sector looks ludicrous when it claims high prices are due to research costs while spending more on advertising than research. Maybe we should really think out of the box: How about limiting direct-to-consumer advertising?

X: How do you make time to think these days?

SP: I enjoy my work, but do find that getting away on a trout stream occasionally makes a huge difference in my outlook on life!

Photo of Hat Creek, CA, courtesy of Sandip Bhattacharya via a Creative Commons license.