The Biotech Life Cycle – Seattle Revisited

BMS is currently in discussions to buy Zymogenetics, from Seattle. While some will mourn at the loss of another regional leader, we see things a different way.

A recent article from the Seattle Times highlights why recycling is so important to building biotech into a sustainable industry. In it, Clay Siegall, an ex-BMS employee who went on to found Seattle Genetics talks about his experience when BMS bought its first Seattle biotech in 1986, Genetic Systems:

Back in 1986, Bristol-Myers acquired Seattle’s first prominent biotech company, Genetic Systems. A dozen years later, the surviving local research operation was closed.

But Clay Siegall, who lost his Bristol-Myers job in that closure, isn’t among those mourning Zymo’s sale.

“It’s how the industry has grown over the years,” Siegall says. “You embrace it and look toward the new generation of companies coming up.”

Siegall and colleague Perry Fell licensed some unwanted technology from Bristol-Myers and founded Seattle Genetics, which now employs 325 and is worth $1.2 billion.

“It shouldn’t be considered a loss, it’s a life cycle.”

This is exactly the same sentiment we echoed in a blog post after spending some time working in Seattle in 2008. In Sleepless in Seattle, we stated:

Biotech should do what it does best; mitigate risk by finding and developing early stage R&D products into the clinic, then hand on late stage development and marketing to big biotech/ pharma partners. Whether this happens through licensing deals or M&A doesn’t really matter – the important bit is to demonstrate a return.

Meanwhile, when companies are sold, resources are recycled back into earlier stage projects – people, R&D expertise and investment dollars. These are success stories.

Recycling leads to returns for investors, pipeline advancement (acknowledging ever present attrition)  and release of experienced talent. This makes starting, funding and growing the next innovative generation of biotech companies possible.

So, when the founder of a $1.2billion company who lost his job in a biotech company sale thinks this way, his advice is worth listening to.


This post is by Raman Minhas. He is CEO of ATPBio, a consultancy supporting biotech funding through VC, big pharma investors and partnering.


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