ZymoGenetics CEO Bruce Carter Retires, Promotes Doug Williams, Says Sad Goodbyes to Biotech “Family”

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In 2000, he led the effort to spin off ZymoGenetics as an independent company, and helped nail down $150 million from private investors that included George Rathmann, the founder of Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company. Carter later took ZymoGenetics public in 2002.

That’s just the business side. ZymoGenetics scientists have made key contributions to six genetically engineered protein drugs currently marketed by other companies, generating a total of more than $3 billion in annual sales. Its science led to genetically engineered human insulin, and Factor VIIa, a genetically engineered protein that’s used to treat hemophilia. Both are marketed by Novo Nordisk. Under Carter’s leadership, it built a pipeline of its own, with drugs for cancer, autoimmune diseases, as well as surgical bleeding.

Carter, a broad-shouldered man of about 6-foot-4, has wavy blondish-gray hair, and a penchant for pinstriped suits. He has always cut a dashing figure in a somewhat bookish industry. Bruce Montgomery, the senior vice president of Gilead Sciences, an accomplished industry veteran with five FDA approved drugs under his belt, once memorably said that when it comes to biotech in Seattle: “He’s Bruce #1. I’m Bruce #2.”

Carter has long been active with the Biotechnology Industry Organization, serving a stint on that trade group’s executive board, as well as years on the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association’s board. He most recently led a search group that recruited Chris Rivera to be the local association’s new president.

He is known for quoting former British prime minister Winston Churchill, often enough that I’m sure the quotes make many employees groan. One of my favorites came when I was reporting for The Seattle Times on his efforts to transform the company’s culture from a dreamy university-style research center into a hard-charging, focused drug developer. He drew on Churchill for inspiration. “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning,” he told me.

Like a lot of people in Seattle biotech, I owe Carter some small debts of gratitude. It’s mainly for being generous with his time, and being patient enough to carefully explain his industry when I was just starting out.

I remember asking Carter what advice he had for young biotech executives. (What I didn’t tell him is was that I was hoping to maybe pick up some advice for my own career.) He told a story about setting goals, on the crew team. He and his teammates decided to set a goal of rowing in the Mexico City summer Olympics. It forced them to think hard about what sort of practice and training would be required to accomplish such a feat. Once the plan was in place, they stuck to it, no matter how hard it was to get out of bed early to go rowing. “You have to first figure out what you want to do. Then go do it,” he said at the time.

It’s good advice that has stuck with me to this day.

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