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Alder Rises From Ashes of Layoffs to Become Seattle Biotech Force

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that its antibodies made in yeast could be equivalent to those in mammalian cells; they could reproduce the result; they could do it in progressively larger quantities (a capability that often trips up biotech companies); and the antibodies were found safe and had attractive dosing properties in rabbits. Alder also found some outside support with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Army.

“These guys weren’t drawing any salaries, they were working on 100 percent sweat equity. They were committed like no other group I’ve ever seen. They put their money where their mouth was,” Le says.

When Alder bundled together all of their data, it finally had enough evidence to graduate from bootstrap mode. In August 2005, the company nailed down an $11.1 million Series A venture round led by Dallas, TX-based Sevin Rosen Funds, Vancouver, BC-based Ventures West, another shot of investment from Seattle-based WRF Capital, and other private investors.

Two more rounds of venture capital pumped in another $56 million into Alder, at increasingly higher valuations, to continue its momentum. But despite the company’s good fortune, Alder hasn’t gone on a big spending or hiring binge since striking the Bristol deal. The company still has just 40 employees, and only lists two current openings on its website.

Of course, as the Alder team knows all too well, the company hasn’t really accomplished anything of lasting significance yet. There is still a huge amount left to prove, starting with presentations of the data for the company’s lead drug, and completing the final-stage clinical trials necessary to win regulatory approval. The lead Alder treatment, ALD518, might not reach the market until 2013.

But just to be in a position to offer a compelling product that relieves pain and suffering for rheumatoid arthritis patients, after being just six years removed from being a bootstrap effort is a rarity. The biotech and pharmaceutical industry is notorious for product development cycles that last a decade or more, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and have very low odds of yielding an FDA approved drug.

Given the odds, Schatzman insists it has taken a village just to get Alder this far. It’s something that the founders knew from the beginning, and they wanted it to be reflected in the company name. It comes from Alder trees, which are part of a resilient and fast-growing genus that is common in the Northwest. They can grow well even in land that has been scarred by fires, clear-cutting, or drought.

That symbolism means something to a group of guys who remember what it’s like to have their hopes dashed with a massive round of pink slips.

“We try to never forget where we came from,” Schatzman says.

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