Michael Kranda, who made a name as one of the "Three Amigos" of management that built Immunex into one of the world's most successful biotech companies, has been hired to run biotech-venture investing for Paul Allen's Vulcan investment firm.
The move gives Vulcan its first employee with long experience in day-to-day operations of successful biotech companies. He also adds depth to a biotech-investment team that includes Ruth Kunath, Vulcan's longtime biotech-portfolio manager, and Patricia Beckmann, a former Immunex scientist hired a year ago.
Those who know Kranda well say hiring him signals Vulcan's serious plans for biotechnology investing. Kranda is known for around-the-clock work habits, an affable personality and global biotech-business connections.
"Why would they hire a guy with his credentials if they weren't going to do some serious things (in biotech)?" said Kirby Cramer, who watched Kranda's career while on the Immunex board of directors. "And why would someone like him, who could work wherever he wants, go to work for them if they weren't about to do something serious?"
Kranda was not available for an interview, but in a statement, he said he will manage Vulcan's biotech portfolio.
"Our priority will be to find new investment opportunities and increase our syndication and collaboration with other leading venture capitalists in the sector," Kranda said.
Ralph Derrickson, who oversees all venture investments at Vulcan, said Kranda will be an asset.
"As Vulcan continues to streamline its investment management by asset class, Michael's leadership and expertise will serve our venture biotechnology practice very well," Derrickson said in a statement.
Kranda, 49, a Seattle native, started his career in politics. He became chief of staff to King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng in the 1980s. He got started in biotech — with a master's in business administration but no industry experience — after a political contact put him in touch with Immunex's chief executive, according to a 1990 Seattle Times profile. Kranda rose to chief operating officer in 1988 but missed out on becoming chief executive.
By 1996, he was recruited by Kirk Raab, a scientific co-founder of industry pioneer Genentech, to became chief executive of Oxford Glycosciences, which became one of Europe's leading biotech companies. He left that job in 2002, as the company was in the midst of being acquired by Celltech. He joins Vulcan after a brief stint at Regulome, a Vulcan-backed biotech startup in Seattle.
Rose quickly in field
Despite his quick career rise, Kranda has had some bumps. He oversaw sales and marketing at Immunex in the early 1990s, when Amgen pounded the Seattle company in that department. Oxford's drug for Gaucher's disease was rejected while he was there but approved after he left.
The news was another in a series of major announcements by Vulcan. The company is investing more than $450 million to turn South Lake Union into a biotech hub with retail and housing and is asking the city for $500 million in street, park and transportation improvements.
Last month, it committed $100 million to start the nonprofit Allen Institute for Brain Science.
Critics in City Hall have questioned whether Vulcan's vision is worth the public investment. Critics in business circles have questioned whether it is willing to be more than a landlord by investing in young — and more risky — biotech companies. Vulcan does not talk about its investing strategies, but observers say its tendency is to invest in companies further along in development, those that look like safer bets.
Alan Frazier, managing partner of Frazier Healthcare Ventures in Seattle, said Kranda was one of the "Three Amigos" at Immunex in the early 1990s. Frazier himself was the finance guy, Kranda the operations man and Steve Gillis was the scientist. Kranda was part of the group that worked feverishly to license back Immunex technologies once thought to be of little value but that later became Enbrel, the blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug.
Frazier said he expects Vulcan to become much more involved in biotech investing, possibly at earlier stages.
"He didn't go there to be a caretaker," Frazier said. "Venture firms need people who have been involved with high-quality startups, and he's done it. That's exactly the kind of people you want to invest with."
Described as quick study
Cramer described Kranda as aggressive, outgoing and well-connected and said he is a quick study.
Doug Williams, chief scientific officer at Seattle Genetics and former head of research at Immunex, said Kranda is known for being able to cut to the heart of the matter in complex problems.
In the 1990 profile, Kranda said he gained valuable experience working on political campaigns in the 1970s for former Gov. John Spellman, former King County Prosecutor Chris Bayley and Maleng.
"I met all the people who run Washington state," Kranda said at the time. "You see that they don't live in castles. They don't have any particular jump on the world.
"That was very helpful for me. It basically ... helped me raise my sights about what could be done."
Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or firstname.lastname@example.org