The Fortune Story that Saved Immunex, & More Mementos: A Photo Slide Show

Xconomy Seattle — 

When Stewart Parker walked into my office on Seattle’s First Hill the other day, she didn’t mince words.

“Here’s the story that saved Immunex,” Parker said, reaching into her bag for a yellowed copy of Fortune magazine from November 1985.

This issue has a bold cover story, written by Gene Bylinsky, with the headline “Cancer Breakthrough.” It has a photograph of larger-than-life vials of medicine, followed by the caption “Cetus Corp’s tumor-zapping Interleukin-2.” Seattle-based Immunex was featured prominently in the story, along with other biotech pioneers like Cetus and Genentech.

This story (which was actually more nuanced than the hype on the cover would suggest) was a turning point for Immunex. Even though Immunex had only gone public in 1983, investors were getting antsy, and wanted to see biotech deliver on its lofty promises. The company had sold IPO shares at $11, and it was down to $5.50. Parker, then the head of communications at Immunex, felt the pressure to score some positive media exposure to rekindle the excitement.

As Parker put it in an e-mail: “IMNX was on fumes, couldn’t raise $, got a call out of the blue from Gene Bylinsky at Fortune who was writing this story on the magical potion, IL-2. We spent the weekend with him and a photographer. Article came out, stock went way up. We were able to do a financing at a great price.”

Stewart Parker

Only later did scientists learn that Interleukin-2 was way too toxic for widespread use as a cancer therapy (although today it does work as a treatment for a very small group of melanoma patients.)

This was just one of the stories conjured up by a treasure trove of company memorabilia that Parker is contributing to our next big Xconomy event “The Immunex Impact” on Dec. 1. I’m squirreling away all kinds of company mementos to show off at the event—T-shirts, mugs, buttons, slinkys, even shoelaces. Besides Parker, I’d like to thank my former boss at the Seattle Times, Rami Grunbaum, for loaning me a bunch of old Immunex glossy annual reports from the Times archives that are chock full of pictures. And, I’d like to thank Immunex alumnus Stewart Lyman for chipping in a couple of his own photos.

I’ve taken a bunch of pictures of this memorabilia which you can see in the slide show posted below. I also plan to bring all this stuff over to the Institute for Systems Biology on Dec. 1 to provide decoration for the event. If you’re planning to attend “The Immunex Impact,” and have some other company materials you’d like to share, please let me know at [email protected] I’ve heard something about an Immunex band, for example, but I haven’t been able to lay my hands yet on a CD. If you’ve got one, please shoot me a note.

Without any further ado, here are the photos:

Immunex Impact — The November 25, 1985 issue of Fortune that “saved Immunex.”
photo by Scott Morgan

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