Biotech boom: How life sciences emerged from ‘the doldrums’ in Seattle and Washington state

Leslie Alexandre has seen quite a bit from her perch surveying Washington state’s life sciences panorama. She is about to retire in on the finish of this 12 months after 5 years as president and CEO of the trade group Life Science Washington, a stretch coinciding with robust development in the state’s maturing biotech sector.

“I feel we’re in an exquisite place, a a lot stronger and extra cohesive group,” stated Alexandre, who mentioned the previous and way forward for biotech and life sciences in the Pacific Northwest for GeekWire’s Well being Tech Podcast. “Our trade was somewhat bit in the doldrums in 2016.”

The area had a protracted historical past of shedding its biotech startups to greater corporations that acquired them and then shut or moved operations. When Alexandre arrived in Seattle, Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen had simply shut its operations on the waterfront close to Seattle’s downtown.

Among the greater than 600 staff there had stayed by means of Amgen’s acquisition of Seattle biotech flagship Immunex. Ultimately, a lot of them dispersed all through the quite a few biotech corporations which have since risen in the area. Quite a bit has modified since 2016.

The state is driving a nationwide biotech IPO wave, with 5 biotech corporations getting into the general public markets in 2021, main tech IPOs in deal volumes and complete proceeds, in accordance with a recent report from Ernst & Younger. Sana Biotechnology raised $587 million in its IPO, Absci pulled in $200 million, and vaccine firm Icosavax raised greater than $180 million.

In 2019 Seattle was named the top “emerging” biotech market by business actual property agency CBRE, famous Alexandre. And it has lengthy been referred to as an “unimaginable analysis cluster,” stated Alexandre, with robust establishments equivalent to Fred Hutchinson Most cancers Analysis Middle, the Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis and the College of Washington.

Not solely is the startup ecosystem booming, established corporations are staying in the area and rising, stated Alexandre. The corporate based as Seattle Genetics in 1997 is now Seagen, with a world presence and greater than 1,700 staff. The corporate saved its headquarters in Bothell, Wash., constructed regional manufacturing capability, and is increasing in the state.

Different operations have stayed native after acquisitions. Alexandre pointed to Juno Therapeutics, which was acquired by Celgene in 2018 for $9 billion. Pharma big Bristol-Myers Squibb later bought Celgene and “is rising like wildfire in our area,” she stated.

“Now we’ve a larger pool of seasoned business expertise, who’ve moved into the realm, had success both with Juno or different corporations, and are desperate to do it once more,” stated Alexandre. “And they’re attracting high expertise with them,” together with from different components of the nation.

Alexandre’s main concern is holding the expertise pool contemporary and full. “We’re getting near that worst potential stage, which is corporations poaching from different corporations,” she stated.

She warns that regional leaders have to deal with expertise growth in any respect ranges, from Okay-12 STEM training to analysis internships, to assist regional biotech development. “I feel that we have to guarantee that we’re holding our eye on the ball, that we’re making the investments we have to in workforce.”

Life Science Washington has partnered with group schools on packages that mesh with regional wants and initiated a marketing campaign to assist draw in hires from out of state, “Discover Your Greatest Life in Washington.”

Alexandre notes that the Seattle space additionally has historic strengths in areas equivalent to infectious illnesses, virology and immunology. That positioned its scientists to rise to the problem of virus surveillance and testing, in addition to vaccine development, she stated. “Now we have that infrastructure in place.”

The pandemic additionally led to development of regional corporations equivalent to Adaptive Biotechnologies, which doubled its workforce throughout the pandemic because it supported vaccine growth and constructed a COVID-19 take a look at.

“COVID itself has completely lit a fireplace in our trade, domestically, regionally, statewide, nationally, throughout the globe,” stated Alexandre. She additionally factors to Adaptive’s partnership with Microsoft as only one instance of a Seattle-area biotech drawing on regional tech expertise to assist more and more tech-heavy initiatives.

“I feel we’re firmly ensconced,” stated Alexandre of biotech scene in the Pacific Northwest. She is getting ready to return to North Carolina, the place she as soon as served as CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Middle, a life sciences financial growth group. She added: “I don’t assume we’re going backwards.”

Life Science Washington is holding its annual Washington State Life Science Summit just about this Thursday, Oct. 21.

Hearken to our dialog with Alexandre above, or subscribe to GeekWire’s Health Tech Podcast in any podcast app.
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