Guest: We can do more to support Washington biotechnology
Washington’s biotech industry has contributed richly to the region but needs support from the state’s lawmakers and its citizens, writes guest columnist H. Stewart Parker.
Special to The Times
AS a very early employee at Immunex, the homegrown biotech purchased by Amgen in 2001, I was more than a little surprised by Amgen’s decision to shutter its Washington operations next year.
Immunex and later Amgen were strong corporate citizens, and the company history includes groundbreaking discoveries that dramatically improved the lives of millions around the globe.
But this is an industry that never rests or remains static. Out of instability and churn, new ideas grow, morph and progress. Opportunities follow setbacks — there are no dead ends, just new avenues that have yet to be explored.
Our elected representatives have done many good things to support the life sciences, such as using money from the 1998 tobacco settlement to help fund research, and implementing 20 years ago a successful research-and-development tax credit that contributed to the growth of Washington’s life-science industry. But to take full advantage of the opportunities here, we must do more.
My career attests to the vitality that occurs at the intersection of discovery and commerce.
After serving at Immunex for 11 years, I led a spinoff called Targeted Genetics from 1992 to 2008. I was also chief executive of Receptech, and served as chief executive of the Infectious Disease Research Institute here in Seattle.
Industry veterans sometimes get together and trace where people landed after each job. For example, the talented group at Targeted Genetics later worked at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Genetics, ZymoGenetics, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and NanoString Technologies, among many other companies and institutions.
Knowledge builds and evolves. Personal connections and professional opportunities create a buzz and an environment where people are excited to come and invest and pour themselves into an idea that can change lives and grow the economy. This environment is rare. Boston has it. The Bay Area has it. And we have it.
Seattle is fortunate to have a strong ecosystem that is supportive of biotech startups. There are attorneys, accountants and investors who know the industry and how to put people and resources together.
Angel investors and venture capitalists are particularly influential in the local economy. They do their homework and stay involved with the company founders.
The jobs they fund are the type we are hoping Washingtonians will be equipped to take: science, technology, engineering and math. These jobs are well-paying, and people employed in this industry tend to be engaged and involved in their communities.
And the work they produce can be truly life-changing.
Immunex produced Enbrel, a breakthrough drug used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Alder Biopharmaceutical uses antibody therapeutics to develop new drugs for cancer, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases. In 2011, Seattle Genetics, which employs nearly 600 people, won Food and Drug Administration approval of the first drug for Hodgkin lymphoma in more than 30 years and the only drug approved specifically for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
In the last five years, the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association has coached, mentored and advised 275 local startups. Today, more than 80 percent are still in business and 65 percent have raised money and hired employees.
Seventy-six cities around Washington host life-science companies and research organizations, which support more than 90,000 jobs. Our state history includes such breakthroughs as ultrasound, defibrillators, bone marrow transplants, kidney dialysis and other devices and medicines that have reshaped our world for the better.
Washington has a lot going for it business-wise, but we must not underestimate the competition for the life-sciences industry. The Washington state Legislature did not renew our industry tax incentives. Forty other states offer tax credits and other competitive incentives. To help ensure the next discoveries are “Made in Washington,” our representatives should create a tax policy that promotes growth.
I’m proud of the work I’ve done in the life sciences when I think about how Washington’s life-science industry touches many citizens, whether they work in the industry, support it or have a loved one with a disease like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or one of the dozens of unmet medical needs for which this industry is developing treatments and cures. But we need the support of our policymakers and every Washingtonian to help grow jobs and find cures that will impact each one of us.
H. Stewart Parker has served as CEO or key executive at a number of life-sciences organizations, including IDRI, Targeted Genetics and Immunex. She currently works as an industry consultant.