The news came as a "thrill" to the top boss at ZymoGenetics. To the people at Seattle Genetics, it was more like a disappointing surprise.
Williams, 46, will hold the same title — chief scientific officer and executive vice president of research and development. But at ZymoGenetics, he said, he will have broader responsibility, from basic discovery of new molecules and early-stage testing, to human clinical trials and FDA approval of a new drug.
Williams accepted the offer late last week and made the news public first thing after the holiday weekend.
"I hate to use the line from 'The Godfather,' but they made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Williams said.
Williams will leave his job at Seattle Genetics by the end of the week and take a few weeks off before he joins his new company. He said he will remain on the board of directors at Seattle Genetics. The two companies do not compete head to head in drug development.
By resigning, Williams forfeits stock options on 500,000 Seattle Genetics shares that were used to recruit him a year ago. He would not say what he's being offered by his new employer.
Williams was paid a base annual salary of $275,000 at Seattle Genetics. The man he's replacing at ZymoGenetics, Frank Collins, who is retiring, was paid a $303,000 salary last year, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
In an interview, Williams said he's eager to take on bigger responsibilities for all research and development at a growing company.
ZymoGenetics has a broader array of research into bleeding disorders, cancer and autoimmune diseases, a Williams forte from Immunex days.
Seattle Genetics is focused more on cancer, particularly on clinical trials of its cancer drugs, for which Williams wasn't responsible .
ZymoGenetics also has more work in early, exploratory stages of research, and more money to pursue it — $272 million in cash reserves, compared to Seattle Genetics' $120 million, according to their latest filings.
Some scientists consider ZymoGenetics the local company most culturally similar to Immunex, particularly as it morphs from a science-based organization to a more disciplined, profit-driven business.
ZymoGenetics Chief Executive Bruce Carter said he began recruiting Williams shortly after Collins said he planned to retire, which the company disclosed in a regulatory filing in May.
Carter said the hiring is a boon to his company. ZymoGenetics stock was up 1 percent after the news came out. Seattle Genetics was down 9 percent.
"This is another step in the evolution of ZymoGenetics, that we've recruited a world-class chief scientific officer that would grace any biotech company. It's a further sign we're on our way," Carter said.
Seattle Genetics CEO Clay Siegall said he will begin the search for a replacement soon and that within hours of making the announcement, he received calls from talented candidates. He said the next chief scientist will likely have a background in cancer.
he company will move on, with former Eli Lilly executive Michael McDonald in charge of clinical trials, he said.
One possible reason for the move, Siegall said, was Williams may have an opportunity to be CEO someday at ZymoGenetics, something that wasn't foreseeable at Seattle Genetics.
Carter hasn't suggested he may leave ZymoGenetics anytime soon, but he's 61. Siegall, a co-founder of Seattle Genetics, is 44.
"It's never positive to lose somebody, but at the end of the day, Seattle Genetics will be known by its products, not by me or Doug or anybody else," Siegall said. "We wish Doug well."
Paul Latta, who follows both companies for McAdams Wright Ragen in Seattle, was surprised but called the move a boost for ZymoGenetics because Williams has credibility on Wall Street.
For Seattle Genetics, Latta said, any anxiety could be smoothed over if it delivers solid clinical evidence at an upcoming medical meeting, showing its drugs work against cancer.
Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or firstname.lastname@example.org