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Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Buy-Out

Zymogenetics has operated in Seattle since 1981. They even made a few products along the way. Their fire along our runway however will soon be extinguished. One of Zymos eulogies discussed the health of the biotech industry in Seattle.

"Biotech advances flow from the well of scientific discovery. Individuals who haven’t worked in a biotech setting don’t always grasp the synergistic benefits of putting together a research team that recombines individual talents to innovate fantastic discoveries that lead to new drugs."

He goes on to point out, "A quick look at the WaBio website shows only about 33 job openings at local biotech companies, with about an equal number of jobs listed for academic and other institutions. Since 2002, when Amgen bought Immunex, there have been over 3,200 layoffs at local biotech companies (not including any upcoming layoffs at ZymoGenetics or Trubion), and I would wager that a lot of these folks were unable to find employment locally."

That is 3200 gone and 33 still available. The only piece missing here is how many jobs have opened up since 2002? That is the health of the industry and its ability to keep the college educated work force required for research teams.

I found a comment from another article regarding demise of Zymo: "I’ve been in pharma work since ‘93, and with Seattle-area biotechs since ‘97 and I’ve been through three layoffs, five mergers and and two company failings.

I had a co-worker coming to me in tears asking me whether she should get a divorce and go back to a job she had out east, or stay with an intransigent husband and child and accept unemployment. I watched a co-worker selling off his furniture to help cover Cobra payments to carry them through the birth of their child. Out of roughly 100 scientists that I’ve worked with (i.e. in my “group” or department) since ‘97 only a little over a third are still in the Seattle area. I’ve spent almost three out of the last thirteen years in this area between paychecks. I know skilled scientists that hung it up to become tour guides, salesman, stay-at-home parents and retail clerks."

There was a Tiki torch along our Cargo Cult airport that burned for many years. It was labeled Zymogenetics. This one was a little different. Why did it burn so long?

The common thread, is that it will soon be gone. It goes on to live as a piece of a mega drug company. Of the hundreds of unemployed people, who will become tour guides, salesmen, stay-at-home parents and retail clerks? My hope is that these people find happiness. Those who find replacement biotech jobs must realize that they work in a cargo cult airport. We take someone from the watch tower, remove the 'coconuts with sticks for antennas' from their ears and we strap a wire around their body and tell them they are now a radio. It pays well for awhile but the duration of that paycheck is random. Zymo was long lived but what will happen next is more likely to be 'three layoffs, five mergers and and two company failings'.

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