British firm closing Bothell research unit

Celltech, the British company that took over one of the region's biotech highfliers of the 1990s, is shutting down its Bothell scientific plant and laying off 90 employees, mostly in high-paying research jobs.

Employees were given 60-day layoff notices yesterday morning and were told that the company is closing its Bothell labs and offices in mid-January. The intellectual property they created — experimental drugs and biological targets to aim drugs at — is being shifted to the company's home base in the United Kingdom.

Randall Schatzman, senior vice president of discovery research, confirmed the move. Officially, he said, the company is shifting its focus toward products in later stages of human testing. The parent company decided that the early stages of research were no longer needed.

Two weeks ago, Seattle-based Corixa similarly shifted its priorities and cut 75 research jobs.

Schatzman delivered the news to employees. He said the shutdown was a surprise to many.

"This is a blow to Puget Sound biotech, but there are outstanding people here that will be readily taken up by other companies, or it could portend the creation of new companies," Schatzman said.

The shutdown, Schatzman said, is unrelated to recent news that the company was delaying final-stage human tests of a rheumatoid arthritis drug and that its partner, Pfizer, said it wanted to renegotiate a deal.

Celltech reported a $35 million pre-tax profit for the first six months of this year, and has 10 molecules in various stages of development, according to its Web site.

The shutdown closes the book on what used to be Darwin Molecular, a company co-founded in 1991 by high-speed gene-sequencing pioneer Leroy Hood.

The company was propelled ahead in 1994 with $5(million investments from Bill Gates and Paul Allen. The company was researching genetic technologies to fight cancer and other diseases.

In 1996, British company Chiroscience offered $120(million in stock to buy the company. Celltech bought Chiroscience in 1999.

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or