My Immunex Remembrance: Getting Scooped on the Biggest Biotech Story of 2001

Xconomy Seattle — 

We’re less than two weeks away from our biggest Seattle biotech event of the year, “The Immunex Impact” on Dec. 1. As part of this event, I’ve enlisted a number of well-known veterans of Immunex—Dave Urdal, Stewart Parker, Steve Graham, Janis Wignall, Doug Williams and Patricia Beckmann—to share one of their favorite stories about the region’s pioneering biotech company.

I don’t know what these people are planning to say, but I’ve encouraged them to keep their stories short and sweet—in the one-to-two minute range. So to give you a sense of what I’m aiming for, I thought I’d offer up an Immunex vignette of my own:

“It was December 2001, and my wife and I had been burning the candle at both ends for a couple months at The Seattle Times in the aftermath of 9/11. We decided to go really far away—to New Zealand.

It was a great trip. We trekked all over, and I never touched a newspaper or checked out the news online for two weeks. I really felt like my batteries were fully recharged on the flight home, where we connected at LAX.

But there, I felt my heart skip a beat. It was when I stopped by the airport newsstand and picked up a copy of the LA Times. There, to my utter dismay, was a story at the top of the Saturday business section, quoting unnamed sources, saying that Amgen was about to acquire Immunex for $16 billion.

My first thought: Why me? I had only been on the biotech beat for the Seattle Times about six months, and here I was getting scooped on the biggest possible story in my coverage area. The LA Times had sources at Amgen, and in those days, I didn’t. I feared that I was totally screwed. It was Saturday evening by the time I was scheduled to get home, and the Sunday paper would have already been put to bed. The best I could do was get my butt back to the office on Sunday, start calling people at home to confirm the news, and try to put it in context.

I’m sure my editors at the time were somewhat amused by my eagerness—nobody expected me to come in on Sunday on the tail end of my vacation. But I did. I confirmed the news, and even got some fresh comments for a front page story in that Monday’s Seattle Times, Dec. 17, 2001. The story was timed to coincide with the press release formally announcing the deal. Editors at the paper seemed pretty happy with it. I wouldn’t say I was pleased with it, but I had at least done the best I could. And I knew there were a lot more questions to ask in the months ahead.”

So that’s my Immunex remembrance. It’s 360 words, and it took exactly two minutes to say it out loud in a practice run. I’m really looking forward to hearing similar anecdotes from this all-star cast of insiders. We have more than 185 people registered at this point, and there’s not much room left at the Institute for Systems Biology, so if you plan to come, I’d encourage you to get tickets soon. See you there Dec. 1.