New CEO succeeds mentor at Dendreon

Dr. Mitchell Gold, a 35-year-old urologist who has become a protégé of one of Seattle's biotech pioneers, has been named the new chief executive of Dendreon.

Gold, the company's chief business officer, will take over the Seattle biotech company's top job Jan. 1 from Christopher Henney. Henney is a co-founder of two companies that helped create the local biotech industry, Immunex and Icos.

Henney, 61, stressed he will continue to work at Dendreon on partnerships and strategy as an executive chairman of the board. Gold will be in charge day to day and will report to the board of directors, Henney said.

Gold joined Dendreon in 2001 as a vice president of business development. Two months ago, he finished negotiations on a $110 million deal to team with industry leader Genentech on genetically-based drugs against cancer.

Gold's hope is to help turn a research-and-development-oriented company into one that starts selling a treatment to fight prostate cancer by stimulating the immune system.

The treatment, Provenge, got a boost earlier this week when the Food and Drug Administration approved continuing a stalled clinical trial. "We're not talking about building a $500 million or a $1 billion company. That's too low," Gold said. "We're building something here much more durable, and much bigger."

Henney said Gold knows more than anybody in the company about doctors and patients.

"To have the charisma, the technical capabilities, the nose for business, the work ethic and leadership abilities, you don't find people in that group very often," Henney said. "Mitch has all that."

In the past, Henney left biotech companies as they grew bigger, but this time, he said, "I'll be around for this one."

One of Dendreon's largest shareholders, Paul Allen's Vulcan, applauded the move. Ruth Kunath, Vulcan's biotech-portfolio manager, said in a statement; "Chris has built a talented management team. Mitchell's experience and strategic vision, along with his close working relationship with Chris, will be of considerable benefit to Dendreon."

Dendreon is in the midst of a down-and-up year. Its stock, which closed at $3.30 yesterday, has lost about two-thirds of its value this year. Most of the fall came in January when it said a preliminary analysis showed Provenge was not likely to succeed.

But in August, more detailed clinical results showed Provenge helped slow progression of prostate cancer in patients for whom other therapies failed.

David Miller, who follows the company for Biotech Monthly and whose team members own Dendreon shares, said he was surprised to see Gold tapped so early, but that "the management of this company is too smart to do anything to put it at risk."

"If Mitch Gold was able to negotiate $100 million from Genentech for a drug target (in animal testing), we're giddy to see what he can get for a late-stage drug like Provenge," Miller said.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or

Dr. Mitchell Gold

Title: Dendreon chief executive, starting Jan. 1.
Age: 35
Previous jobs: Chief business officer, board director of Dendreon, May 2002 to present; Dendreon vice president of business development, June 2001 to May 2002; Vice president, business development, Data Critical, now a division of General Electric, April 2000 to May 2001; co-founder, president and CEO of Elixis, medical-software company, 1998 to April 2000; Resident urologist, University of Washington School of Medicine, 1993-1998.
Education: M.D., Rush Medical College, Chicago; B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison