Stewart Parker Resigns from Targeted Genetics After Gene Therapy Setbacks

Xconomy Seattle — 

H. Stewart Parker’s long career at Targeted Genetics has come to an end. The Seattle biotech company said today that Parker, its founder and the only CEO since it started in 1989, along with her longtime partner, chief scientist Barrie Carter, have both resigned as of last Thursday.

Parker will remain on the Targeted Genetics board, the company said. She is being replaced as president and CEO by Susan Robinson, the vice president of business development. The company, in a statement, didn’t say what Parker will do next, other than she looks forward to taking on “new challenges.” Board chairman Jeremy Curnock Cook said in the statement he expressed “genuine thanks to and esteem for Ms. Parker and Dr. Carter for their dedication and perseverance through some very gratifying and challenging times.”

Parker has overseen a series of long, well-documented ordeals. Targeted Genetics (NASDAQ: TGEN) specializes in gene therapy, a technique for shuttling genes into cells to treat diseases at the root cause. The field benefitted from intense hype in the mid-1990s, then suffered a devastating blow in 1999 when Arizona teenager Jesse Gelsinger died in a gene therapy trial at the University of Pennsylvania. Targeted Genetics suffered its own major setback last year, when a patient with rheumatoid arthritis died in a company-sponsored clinical trial, and its drug was suspected for a time as a possible contributing factor. An investigation by the FDA found the death was from other causes, but the damage was done with investors. Targeted Genetics has run up an accumulated a deficit of $310 million through the end of September, only has enough cash left to run into the first quarter of 2009, with limited options to raise more. Its stock closed at 37 cents on Friday.

Parker, 52, has been something of a biotech industry pioneer, a role model for female executives, and a well-connected player in Seattle biotech. She got an MBA at the University of Washington and went on to become one of the first employees at Seattle’s leading biotech company, Immunex, in 1981. She rose through the ranks of the business side of the company, until forming Targeted Genetics as a subsidiary in 1989 to perform its gene therapy work. Targeted Genetics spun off as an independent company in 1992, and went public two years later. Parker serves on the board of directors of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.