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Monoclonal antibodies in the Pacific Northwest
Genetic Systems, Inc. is founded in Seattle by immunologist Robert Nowinski of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, on $40 million raised by entrepreneurial brothers David and Isaac Blech. A large portion of the founding funds are provided by Charlie Allen, the principal of New York City investment bank Allen & Co. Genetic Systems intends to manufacture diagnostic products with monoclonal antibodies, with an initial concentration on the detection of sexually-transmitted diseases.
The company negotiates exclusive licenses to thirty-seven monoclonal antibodies developed by Nowinski and colleagues at the Hutchinson Center. Twenty-nine of these are sublicensed to Syva, the Palo Alto, California diagnostics subsidiary of Syntex Corporation, which will retain marketing rights in exchange for research funding for three years. The ‘Hutch,’ as the Cancer Center is known locally in Seattle, is to receive royalties of 3-8% on diagnostic product sales. Genetic Systems also announces plans to investigate the utility of monoclonal antibodies in cancer diagnosis and tissue-typing, and in therapeutic applications as well.
Nowinski and the Blechs hire marketing and sales executive James Glavin to serve as President and CEO. The company goes public in 1981, and is purchased by Bristol-Myers in 1986 for $310 million, in one of the first moves by a Big Pharma Corporation to take biotech R&D in-house.
Nowinski goes on to start three more successful biotech companies: Icos Corp., in 1989, which develops Cialis®, the blockbuster erectile dysfunction drug, and is purchased by Eli Lilly & Co. in 2006 for $2.2 billion; Pathogenesis in 1992, which markets a cystic fibrosis treatment and is acquired by Chiron for $660 million in 2000; and VaxGen in 1995, which becomes a publicly-traded company in 1998, and subsequently develops anthrax and smallpox vaccines.