|mib - Montag, 26. November 2001 - 20:38|
| noch eine Prise Biotech gefaellig? |
Gruss - Mib
The Christopher Henney aura gives Dendreon credibility
Monday, November 26, 2001
By MARNI LEFF
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
(EDITORS NOTE: This is part of an occasional series profiling Seattle biotech companies.)
Christopher Henney has made an indelible imprint on Seattle's biotechnology scene.
He helped to found the region's two biggest biotech companies, Immunex in 1981 and Icos in 1990.
Dendreon CEO Christopher Henney, co-founder of Immunex and Icos, has been a key figure in the development of the biotechnology industry in Seattle. Phil H. Webber / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Click for larger photo
Now, he's working on a third, Dendreon Corp., which he moved from Mountain View, Calif., to Seattle, in part because of the talent and strength in Seattle's burgeoning biotech community.
Dendreon has in late-stage clinical trials a pair of cancer vaccines that Wall Street analysts say are backed by good, solid science.
But it is Henney himself, analysts say, and his reputation as a seasoned scientist and entrepreneur that has sold investors on the company.
"At Immunex and Icos and probably at Dendreon, too, he has done some really groundbreaking research," said Andrew Heyward, a biotechnology analyst at Ragen MacKenzie.
"He's really gone after areas that are unexplored. That means it may take them longer to get a product on the market, but it also means they really have a chance at building a good, viable company with a lot of (intellectual property) in one area."
Henney, who began his biotech career at Immunex Corp., left his position there as vice chairman and scientific director in 1989.
"At that point, the company had gotten to the size where it was less attractive to me, or maybe it just outgrew me," he said. "The things that I liked and did well were better at smaller companies."
Henney went on to team up with Robert Nowinski, a founder of Seattle's first biotech, Genetic Systems, and George Rathmann, a founder of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc., to start Icos.
A lot has changed since the early days, Henney said, when recruiting promising young scientists was a struggle and biotechnology was seen as a sort of fly-by-night industry.
"In the beginning, there was a huge question about how long the business would be around," he recalled. "I think a lot of young scientists saw it as a risky move careerwise and were worried that if they did it, they'd be black-balled from academia."
Yet Henney's knack for recruiting young talent became apparent to those who worked with him.
"Chris is an extremely good judge of talent," said Steven Gillis, who founded Immunex with Henney and Stephen Duzan. Gillis is now chairman and chief executive officer of Seattle-based Corixa Corp. "He can be extremely charming and engaging and that can be helpful in terms of courting people."
Thomas Dietz, an analyst at Pacific Growth Equities, said Henney's ability to woo talent has also served him well at Dendreon.
"He's assembled a good team," Dietz said, citing David Urdal, a former Immunex executive who came to Dendreon shortly after Henney did in 1995, as a particularly important recruit.
Analysts also praised Henney's ability to broker financial partnerships, a vital economic lifeline for most start-up biotechs during the years that they spend trying to create their first revenue-generating products.
Dendreon has collaborations with the pharmaceutical division of Kirin Brewery Co. and the R.W. Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, that have helped the young company fund its research.
During the third quarter, Dendreon recorded a $10 million payment from an expansion of its deal with Kirin.
The new agreement calls for Dendreon to provide Kirin with clinical and regulatory support to help the Japanese company get Dendreon's developmental cancer vaccines approved by Asian regulatory agencies. The deal is one of a series of measures that Dendreon has taken in recent months to prepare to bring its first product, a prostate cancer vaccine, to market.
Karen Steffen adds white blood cells to Dendreon's cell separation device, technology developed by the company and used in the preparation of its therapeutic cancer vaccines. Phil H. Webber / Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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Introducing Provenge will take Henney into uncharted territory. Though he played a role in the discovery and development of two of Immunex's marketed products -- Leukine, a cancer drug, and Enbrel, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that is expected to generate $750 million in sales for the company this year -- he left before either received Food and Drug Administration approval.
Henney also worked on the development of Cialis, Icos' upcoming impotence drug, though it was being tested to treat other diseases and conditions when Henney worked at the company.
"Provenge will be the first drug that I was involved in all the way through," he said. "My experience -- and really my love -- is the research end, more than the development. But it will be nice to see Provenge on the market."
Although many smaller biotechs choose to partner with big pharmaceutical companies to take advantage of their extensive networks of sales representatives, Dendreon has yet to do so.
"We are preparing to do this ourselves in the United States," said Henney, though he pointed out that Dendreon's deal with Kirin will help introduce the drug into Asian markets. "That doesn't mean that if it would provide better value to our shareholders that we wouldn't work with someone else."
Henney said that perhaps a partnership would be more likely after the company files for approval with the FDA, when the value of Provenge would likely be its greatest.
Right now the company has completed enrollment of one Phase 3 Provenge trial and is working on another. The company has said it expects to have the product on the market as early as 2003.
In the meantime, Dendreon signed a deal with Gambro Healthcare Inc. last month to give the company access to infrastructure necessary to administer Provenge. The deal will provide Dendreon with a network of cell collection centers -- Gambro's Swedish parent company has 650 worldwide.
Dendreon needs the collection centers because, in order to be treated with the drug, patients must first give a blood sample. The blood sample is sent to a processing facility -- Dendreon plans to set up three or four around the country -- where proprietary technology is used to isolate and activate the patient's dendritic cells. The blood is then infused back into the patient's body, either at a doctor's office or the site where the patient had the sample collected.
While the process sounds complicated, Dietz of Pacific Growth Equities said he doesn't think that it will lessen demand for the drug.
"Most patients are happy to do something slightly more complex than take a pill from a bottle if the outcome is significantly better than what they would get any other way," Dietz said. "The ultimate value is in the efficacy."
During an interview at Dendreon's First Avenue headquarters in Seattle last week, Henney was enthusiastic about the steps that his company is taking to prepare to market the drug, should it be approved by the FDA.
He brought out a series of maps that neatly plot where the greatest concentration of prostate cancer patients live and where the company plans to set up cell processing centers.
He also talked excitedly about other work in the company's pipeline, which includes Mylovenge, a multiple myeloma vaccine that is in Phase 2 clinical trials.
"We're kind of at a crossroads with our pipeline," Henney said. "We have a great platform with our vaccine technology, and it may be all that we need to make the company what we want it to be, but that is rather a narrow construct. Whether when, if you like, we grow up, we become more of an immunology company ... that is also a possibility."
Seated in a company conference room, Henney, 60, reflected briefly on Seattle's biotech evolution.
"We're not San Diego, we're not Boston and we're not the South Bay/San Francisco metropolitan area," he said. "But, boy, behind those three major historic centers, we're a close fourth. We're definitely a player."
Henney said Seattle has come a long way from the days when he was first at Immunex and it was difficult to persuade analysts to come visit a single company, tucked away in the top left-hand corner of the country. Now, he says, Seattle has a quorum.
Still, Henney said that beyond Immunex, Icos and Dendreon there are no new start-ups in his future.
"Age dictates that," he said. "I promised my family that this would be my swan song."
Number of employees: 141
Founded: In 1992 as Activated Cell Therapy by Drs. Samuel Strober and Edgar Engleman of Stanford University. The company moved to Seattle in January 1999.
Initial public offering: June 2000, $10 a share.
Lead products: Provenge, a prostate cancer vaccine, in Phase 3 clinical trials. Mylovenge, a vaccine for multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, in Phase 2 trials. The company is also testing a breast cancer vaccine and is in preclinical development with treatments for bladder and lung cancers.
P-I reporter Marni Leff can be reached at 206-448-8142 or email@example.com