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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Positively Sink'n Think'n About Amgen Seattle

An Amgen spokesman told Xconomy its Seattle R&D site and Bothell manufacturing sites employed 660 people combined, with 430 more in Colorado. The facilities will be closed by the end of 2015.
I've extracted this bit of news from an article on Xconomy. The rest of the article depicts the upside that remains in Seattle.
When asked for his reaction to the Amgen news, Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association president and CEO Chris Rivera said, “In a word, disappointing.” But Rivera adds he is optimistic that the employees who don’t relocate—Amgen said it would shift jobs to its Cambridge, MA, and San Francisco Bay Area locations—should be able to find jobs in Washington state if they want to.
The Seattle Times reported Riveras' thoughts on the matter this way:
Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, said that while the news was a letdown given Immunex-Amgen’s history in Seattle, he is “pretty confident” those employees who want to stay here will be able to find a job in the sector. “There are plenty of opportunities here,” with about 190 biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies in the area, he said.
Next we hear from Bob Nelsen of ARCH Venture Partners, a longtime investor in the Cargo Cults of Seattle: "Amgen’s departure is not good, but the area’s strength in various disciplines will make up for it in the long run.” Oh sure, Amgen in Seattle had 1600 employees in 2004. In 2015 they will have zero. The 750,000 square feet facility will now go on Craigslist perhaps. 'R&D space available. Nice view! DNA bridge included!' The unemployed will take their resumes, many of which will list a degree from UW and one narrowly defined job at Amgen, and go find those jobs that Rivera and Nelsen believe exist. The cargo cults are going to be just fine. The truth is that this is bad. Really bad. We haven't learned anything nor have we admitted that this failure is something worth a concerted effort to prevent in the future. We cannot look past this spectacular failure of the biggest deal in the history of Seattle biotech. The demise was not sudden. There were 1600 jobs in 2004 and only 610 left to eliminate in 2014. The demise was a long slow process. Only one decade after the most grandiose R&D cargo cult was finished and fully staffed, it goes to the Seattle Biotech graveyard. We have seen the loss of many companies large and small. From the tiny 3 people companies at Accelerator to the larger implosions of Zymogenetics and Icos, Seattle biotech workers have had to exist in a minefield. Those losing their jobs must share in the culpability of this minefield. They are cargo cult tribesmen who do not want to speak of that lack of cargo planes landing on their runway. The optimism is always there. The cargo? Now they must be moving on to man the watch tower at the next airport. Once again there will be no gathering of "talent" to put down on paper what was learned. The only writing that will take place comes in the form of CVs depicting only positive information. The leadership that survives will rest assured that they have made the prudent decision and that ten years from now, all will be better. This is the problem with positive thinking. Nothing is gained. As one soon-to-be ex-Amgen researcher said, "I understand from a business angle but I think it is shortsighted." Really? You understand cutting out R&D from a science based company where the kind of research you do can take decades to complete? They shut you down in ten years! Get mad! This is a raw deal. Those who conduct research surely have a thing or two to say about a ten year period where 1600 people lost their jobs. Something was not going well. What was the negative side of your work? Why do you think the executives did not see the value in what you did for their company? Times like these require everyone to face the facts, just as the leadership at Amgen has had to face facts. The value of R&D is just not there. Either it is not very scientific (as the Amgen Study reported) or the leadership is missing its point. Why not make a decision yourself then? Speak out about what you did. I once interviewed for an RNAi job at the Seattle Amgen facility. I learned that it was an RNAi job while on the interview. I told them I would not work with RNAi. We chatted politely but the interview was over for all intents and purposes. I shared what I experienced with RNAi and why I did not believe in the future of the technology. Since then I have witnessed one RNAi company fail after another. Serepta continues to crumble. I gave up biotech entirely in 2010 but I remain loyal to the cause. Not in a positive way like Rivera and Nelsen. I am one of the guys who would have lost his job had I got the RNA job at Amgen. I saw the same value then as Amgen executives see now. The people I interviewed with at some point between my interview and now have lost their jobs. The value of the work we were talking about that day has been decided. It is worth nothing. Now what can we do to find value in ourselves? How can we work towards a brighter future for the next generation or will it be up to them to improve upon what we've been begun? What will become of the unemployed in the next few years? There are many questions but no one is asking them. We don't want to seem negative.

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