ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams Exits the Stage, Mulls Next Free Agent Move

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re-ignite the spark it once had. This past June, the company hoped to gin up some enthusiasm for an experimental immune-booster against melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, at the biggest cancer meeting of the year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The data was encouraging, showing it could shrink tumors in 23 percent of patients and keep the tumors from spreading for a median of more than four months. But that result looked like nothing compared to what Bristol-Myers presented from its own treatment, ipilimumab, which was the darling of the meeting, when it showed it could help patients on the drug live a median of about four months longer than others in a control group.

While ZymoGenetics continued to make progress, it had to consider the possibility that it would never be able to get fair value from investors. So on September 7, when ZymoGenetics stock was still languishing at $5.30 a share, the company announced it agreed to be acquired by Bristol-Myers for $9.75 a share, an 84 percent premium over the previous day’s closing price. The transaction valued ZymoGenetics at $885 million. Premiums that fat aren’t that common, so this was essentially a deal that shareholders were guaranteed to accept, and they did a month later. Williams didn’t make any promises to employees about how many jobs would be retained by the new owner.

“I’m going to advocate on behalf of the many talented workers we have here. I think Bristol sees a lot of value in the people that are here,” Williams said in an interview the day the takeover was announced, September 7.

Whatever Williams does next will clearly be influenced by hard decisions he made over the past couple years under pressure of having the ultimate responsibility at ZymoGenetics, and living with the consequences. Investors who bought into the ZymoGenetics IPO in 2002 had to be disappointed—given that the IPO price was $12. Then again, it’s undeniable that Williams presided over some positive returns for shareholders, since he was given the job when the stock was at $3.22 and he sold at $9.75. It’s clearly the kind of experience that venture capitalists, and Williams’ corporate peers around the country, do recognize.

“Doug could do many things,” says Alan Frazier, … Next Page »

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