Gilead’s Lung Drug Ace, Bruce Montgomery, Hits Free Agent Market, Scopes Startup Ideas

Xconomy Seattle — 

Bruce Montgomery, the prolific drug developer and a leader of Seattle’s biotech cluster, has become a free agent, Xconomy has learned.

Montgomery, 57, has told colleagues at Gilead Sciences that he is resigning from his full-time operating job as senior vice president of Gilead’s respiratory drug division in Seattle. He plans to continue working for the Foster City, CA-based biotech giant (NASDAQ: GILD) as a part-time senior advisor. Montgomery tells me his last full day at Gilead will be Aug. 15. He plans to spend the next few months figuring out his next career move—which could be as a CEO of an existing company, a founder of a new biotech startup, or maybe as a venture capitalist.

“I accomplished what I wanted to do at Gilead,” Montgomery says. He added: “I want to start something. I just have to figure out what that is. That’s my next step.”

Montgomery has the kind of track record rarely found in biotech, having played a role in developing six FDA-approved drugs on his resume. One venture capitalist I quoted in The Seattle Times in 2004 called him a “rock star” of drug development. That was when Montgomery was out raising cash for Seattle-based Corus Pharma, a company he founded in 2001 to develop an inhalable antibiotic for cystic fibrosis. He sold Corus to Gilead for $365 million five years later. Before that entrepreneurial venture, Montgomery, a board-certified pulmonologist, played key roles in the development of inhalable tobramycin (now sold as TOBI by Novartis), Genentech’s dornase alfa (Pulmozyme), and most recently, Gilead’s aztreonam lysine (Cayston).

“He has shown that smarts, dedication and tenacity can create life-saving drugs,” says Kirby Cramer, the former chairman of Corus.

Gilead, the world’s largest maker of HIV drugs, invested big money in Montgomery and his team in Seattle. The company set up the group of 150 people in a new $50 million respiratory disease research center along Lake Union that the company just moved into in March. Montgomery talked in some detail earlier this year about the portfolio of products he and the team assembled at Gilead, during a presentation we covered in January.

Bruce Montgomery

Bruce Montgomery

No successor has been named for Montgomery at the helm of the Gilead Seattle operation, and that’s something Montgomery says he’s working on. Montgomery downplayed any impact his departure might have on operations, saying that most of the people in the Seattle operation report into matrixed teams in Foster City and at other locations, and that will continue.

“We are thankful to Bruce for his leadership and many contributions to Gilead and to the field of cystic fibrosis,” said Gilead’s chief scientific officer, Norbert Bischofberger, in an e-mailed statement. “We are pleased that Bruce will maintain his involvement with Gilead as a senior advisor. His scientific foresight contributed to a valuable body of work that will continue in Seattle as we evaluate the use of Cayston for Burkholderia infections in CF patients and for bronchiectasis and as we advance other respiratory programs.”

“Bruce will be working with me to identify his successor, who will be based in Seattle,” Bischofberger added.

While Montgomery’s work has been less visible in the four years that he’s been inside Gilead, he still has his fingers in a lot of pots in Seattle. He’s the former chairman of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, serves on the board of trustees of the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund, and recently joined the board of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN).

True to form, the always loquacious Montgomery was happy to chat and joke … Next Page »

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