Bristol-Myers Squibb to Stay in Seattle, Keep ZymoGenetics Workers

Xconomy Seattle — 

Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb scoped out the neighborhood for a couple months, and has decided to put down roots in Seattle.

The New York-based pharmaceutical giant (NYSE: BMY), which spent $885 million to acquire ZymoGenetics in October, has decided to maintain its presence here, according to Chris Rivera, the president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.

“My understanding is that there are 275 people there, and they are all being retained, and they were told this morning in a meeting with senior management,” Rivera says. He said he wasn’t sure what Bristol’s real estate plans were for ZymoGenetics’ historic Steam Plant headquarters, or its other properties.

A voicemail and e-mail message sent to a Bristol-Myers Squibb spokeswoman weren’t immediately returned.

The decision by the pharmaceutical giant is surely a sigh of relief for Rivera and a bunch of local policymakers who were dreading the possibility of yet another big pharma takeover leading to mass layoffs in the local biotech community. That’s what happened before with local biotech stars Immunex, Icos, Corixa, and eventually Rosetta Inpharmatics, and quite a few biotechies expected a similar fate to strike ZymoGenetics, the venerable biotech founded in 1981. Many of ZymoGenetics’ senior managers have already left for new jobs, including former CEO Doug Williams, but those who are still working at Zymo’s offices on Eastlake Avenue now have some more security in knowing Bristol wants to stay in Seattle.

Bristol agreed to acquire ZymoGenetics back in September, saying then that it wanted to obtain full ownership of a drug for hepatitis C called pegylated interferon lambda. This product, which I wrote about earlier today, surely became more valuable after Bristol closed the Zymo deal, because a competing drug failed to show it could make the Zymo product obsolete in a clinical trial. At the time of acquisition, ZymoGenetics executives  couldn’t promise that Bristol wanted the ZymoGenetics people, as well as the ZymoGenetics assets, but they suggested the deal might not end in mass layoffs. Former chief financial officer Jim Johnson told me in September that Bristol’s pattern with past acquisitions—Princeton, NJ-based Medarex, and Waltham, MA-based Adnexus Therapeutics—suggested that it may want to retain people with expertise in biotech R&D like those at Zymo.

Having Bristol retain a presence is critically important to the region, in that it helps provide stability to the local biotech job market, Rivera says. “”Having a mix of large pharma, large biotech, large device companies is important to keep our job ebb and flow more steady. It helps to recruit executives from outside the regio,” he says.

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7 responses to “Bristol-Myers Squibb to Stay in Seattle, Keep ZymoGenetics Workers”

  1. mjk says:

    Rivera’s “understanding” is incorrect. check facts and perhaps an official statement before publishing.

  2. No full statement yet, but this just in from Governor Gregoire: “Today I was thrilled to learn that not only will ZymoGenetics remain in Seattle, but that our partnership with Bristol-Meyers Squibb is stronger than ever,” said Gregoire. “When Bristol-Meyers Squibb first acquired ZymoGenetics, I shared with them Washington’s standing as a global hub for medical research and biotechnology and urged them to keep a Seattle presence. A ZymoGenetics move would have been a significant loss for our state and biotech community, but the company learned that the first-class workforce and strong biotech leadership of our region was crucial to their success. Today is a great day and shows exactly why Washington state will help lead our national economic recovery.”

  3. Just got the second half of a joint statement issued by Gov. Gregoire and Bristol-Myers Squibb. There were no specifics about the number of people Bristol employs there now, or intends to employ in the future in Seattle. So I will have to track that down tomorrow. Here’s the comment from Bristol:

    “Bristol-Myers Squibb is pleased to announce today our decision to maintain a biotechnology presence in Seattle by continuing to operate the ZymoGenetics site,” said Lamberto Andreotti, chief executive of Bristol-Myers Squibb. “The decision to maintain the site in Seattle as
    a Bristol-Myers Squibb hub reflects the quality of the talent and assets at ZymoGenetics, as well as our desire to be a part of the robust Seattle biotech environment.”

  4. MJK—can you clarify what’s wrong? I’ll update and correct the story if I can verify the information. –Luke

  5. Here’s a brief e-mailed comment I just picked up from former ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams:

    “I’m glad to hear about the decision. Good for the employees, good for BMS and good for the local biotech community too.”