Biotech company Seattle Genetics hires former Immunex star

Doug Williams, the highly respected science leader of Immunex who bailed out shortly after it was taken over by Amgen a year ago, has resurfaced as chief scientific officer of one of the region's growing biotech companies, Seattle Genetics.

The signing, to be officially announced before markets open this morning, is a big score for Seattle Genetics. It is adding a person with a rare knack for science and business, with crossover appeal from boardroom to investor tower to lab bench.

Williams, 45, spent 15 years rising on the ladder at Immunex, the region's most successful biotech company, where he finished as chief technology officer and on the board of directors. He cultivated loyalty among scientists with a habit of deflecting credit to them, and became known for making smart bets on company experiments.

Most recently, he is returning to the region after a temporary stint as a strategic advisor at a biotech company in New Zealand, Genesis Research and Development. After wrapping up there, he will start the new job in September. He will keep a seat on the Seattle Genetics board he took two years ago, but quit the compensation committee to avoid conflicts of interest.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Williams said he chose Seattle Genetics because he likes how its people and experimental drugs compare to what other sirens in biotech and venture capital had to offer.

"I've been on the board (of Seattle Genetics) for a while and had the opportunity to learn who the people are here, and see the technologies, and what I see is a company that's a whole lot like Immunex from a few years ago," Williams said. "And I'm a young guy. I've got lots of miles left on me. I really felt this was the perfect situation."

Williams said he wants to "get my hands dirty" again in day-to-day science, and he will — he's now responsible for all of Seattle Genetics research and development. He said he chose not to start his own company because he didn't want to spend all of his time raising money.

He didn't disclose his pay, but he was able to command more than $780,000 in salary and bonus in his final full year at Immunex, and cashed out $6 million worth of Amgen stock when he left there last year, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Williams said he doesn't have to worry about violating any noncompete or nondisclosure agreements with Amgen.

Seattle Genetics Chief Executive Clay Siegall said Williams provides some needed depth to the company's top management circle. It also represents a reversal of roles — Williams once offered Siegall a job at Immunex in 1997, when Siegall was hedging his bets in case the start up of Seattle Genetics unraveled.

But the first financing for the company did come through for Siegall and his partner H. Perry Fell. Bothell-based Seattle Genetics has used the money to develop genetically engineered antibodies that zero in on cancer cells that may prolong people's lives. It is also trying to engineer antibodies that can carry an extra cancer-killing punch of chemotherapy or radiation.

"It's obviously terrific for Seattle Genetics," Siegall said. "(Williams) helped build Immunex into a world-class company."

Williams didn't dismiss the idea that he could lure stars away from California-based Amgen, which has hung onto former "Immunoids" with retention bonuses, but has made many unhappy with a command-and-control culture that clashes with the freewheeling Immunex. Seattle Genetics has already pried away Paul Carter from Amgen. Carter has done significant antibody work.

But Williams is also joining a company with much to prove to Wall Street. Its drugs in development are still several years away from widely reaching patients, at a time when conventional investing wisdom prefers less-risky biotechs that will have moneymaking drugs soon.

Seattle Genetics stock closed yesterday unchanged at $4.95, up 60 percent year-to-date, but down from its initial public offering of $7 from March 2001.

Still, the company's cancer drug furthest in development, SGN-15, has begun to show early signs of effectiveness.

In preliminary results of a trial in 62 patients with lung cancer, patients on a combination of SGN-15 and chemotherapy survived without their disease worsening for 15.3 weeks compared with 7.4 weeks for patients on chemotherapy alone. Overall survival data over a longer time frame, a more-telling statistic, is expected later this year.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or

Seattle Genetics

Located: Bothell

Founded: 1997

Employees: 100

Chief executive: Clay Siegall, 42

New chief scientific officer: Doug Williams, 45

Cash and investments: About $70 million

Top investors: JP Morgan Partners, Baker Brothers Investments, Bill Gates' Cascade Investments and Paul Allen's Vulcan