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Originally published January 25, 2011 at 5:36 PM | Page modified January 26, 2011 at 6:49 AM

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ZymoGenetics parent Bristol-Myers to keep a Seattle presence

Bristol-Myers Squibb, which bought Seattle drugmaker ZymoGenetics last year, plans to keep a long-term presence in Seattle's South Lake Union district, a spokeswoman said late Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bristol-Myers Squibb, which bought Seattle drugmaker ZymoGenetics last year, plans to keep a long-term presence in Seattle's South Lake Union district, a spokeswoman said late Tuesday.

"The decision reflects the quality of talent and assets at ZymoGenetics, as well as our company's own decision to be part of the robust Seattle biotech environment," said Bristol-Myers spokeswoman Jennifer Mauer.

Local officials said earlier Tuesday that Bristol-Myers would preserve about 275 jobs at Zymo. But Mauer said she couldn't confirm that figure.

"The final organizational structure for the site hasn't been determined," she said. "So a decision about the final number of jobs hasn't been determined."

Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, said Bristol-Myers officials told him "their intention is to keep those employees intact."

"Obviously, having Bristol-Myers Squibb with a footprint here, which looks like it'll be a long time, helps grow our work force. ... We truly are a leader in life sciences research, not only nationally but internationally, and this continues to support that," he said.

The decision should ease fears that the venerable Seattle drug developer, which cut about one-third of its staff in 2009, would disappear after the sale.

When Bristol-Myers Squibb made public its acquisition offer, it vowed to keep ZymoGenetics' laboratories here "at least through 2011." But that didn't reassure the company's 300-some employees at the time.

Bristol-Myers had acquired Seattle's first prominent biotech company, Genetic Systems, in 1986, and years later shut down the local operation.

ZymoGenetics has more than 20 years of history in the Seattle area. The company was founded in 1981 by two University of Washington professors and a University of British Columbia professor, and became one of the first biotechs to go public.

In 1988, Novo Nordisk acquired it. The Danish company later spun it off and ZymoGenetics went public again in 2002 at $12 a share.

Bristol-Myers was collaborating with ZymoGenetics on a drug for hepatitis C infections when last September it offered Zymo's board $9.75 per share, an 84 percent premium to the stock price.

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The $884 million acquisition, completed in October, raised fears that Bristol-Myers would lay off the remaining employees and shutter Zymo, which occupies 271,000 square feet of lab and office space, including the prominent Lake Union steam plant.

"When a company is acquired, you don't know what the prognosis is," Rivera said. Other drug giants have swallowed up local biotech companies and eliminated their local presence: Eli Lilly acquired Icos. GlaxoSmithKline bought Corixa.

Public officials praised the company's decision late Tuesday.

"Bristol-Myers Squibb has made a wise decision in keeping research operations here in the Puget Sound," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, in a statement. "Life science continues to be a key economic driver for Washington state."

In November, Gov. Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn and Inslee co-signed a letter to James Cornelius, the chairman of Bristol-Myers Squibb, welcoming the company to the region and offering their help to support its presence in the state.

Their letter pointed out how some global life-sciences firms, including Amgen and Gilead Sciences, had "found it in their strategic business interests" to continue to invest in the region.

Rivera said the officials he spoke with at Bristol-Myers made no commitment, for now, to growing Zymo's work force.

But overall, retaining Bristol-Myers in the Puget Sound region's biotech hub is "fantastic news," he said. Zymo "has been one of our very strong and positive stories in our community."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Material from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.

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