On December 18, 2001, Amgen, Inc. agrees to buy Immunex Corp., Seattle's largest biotech firm, for $16 billion in stock and cash. Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, California outside Los Angeles, is the world's largest biopharmaceutical firm. It employs 7,500 people and its major products are the cancer drug Neupogen and the drug Epogen for anemia. The Seattle firm Immunex employs 1,500 people and manufactures the rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, considered a star drug, as well as the cancer drug Leukine, and Noventrone for multiple sclerosis and cancer. The new company will operate under the Amgen name and will retain significant operations in Seattle for the next dozen years.
Christopher Henney founded Immunex with Steven Gillis and Stephen Duzan in 1981. Amgen, which incorporated in 1980 as Applied Molecular Genetics (AMgen) and commenced operation in January 1981, was at one time the Seattle firm's chief rival. In 1991, the two companies came out with competing cancer drugs within two weeks of each other. (Amgen's Neupogen outsold Immunex's Leukine by a long shot.)
Edward V. Fritzky, Immunex's president, chairman, and chief executive, talked to Amgen for more than a year. He later sat on Amgen's board of directors. At the time of the sale it was reported that he would withdraw from day-to-day operations.
Biotechnology in the Region
The field of biotechnology (begun in the 1970s) invents drugs that work at the cell level to alter genes and cell interactions to effect cures. Other biotech firms in the region at the turn of the twenty-first century were:
- Zymogenetics, located in Eastlake, was the area's oldest biotech firm. It had more than 200 patents, most are a long way from the market;
- Icos Corporation, based in Bothell, had 465 employees. Icos was working on an anti-impotence drug, Cialis, which challenged Pfizer's Viagra when it goes on the market. It was also working on a drug for severe sepsis, an often lethal bacterial infection;
- Cell Therapeutics, Inc., based in Seattle, had 228 employees. Cell Therapeutics manufactured Trisenox, an arsenic-based treatment, effective for a rare form of relapsed leukemia;
- Corixa Corporation, based in Seattle, had 498 employees. Corixa is working on two cancer drugs;
- Dendreon Corporation, based in Seattle with 145 employees, was developing a prostate cancer treatment called Provenge;
- Seattle Genetics, based in Bothell, had 70 employees and was developingg monoclonal antibody drugs to combat cancer.
Immunex was at the time of the takeover in the process of building a large complex on the Seattle waterfront on Smith Cove at the foot of Queen Anne Hill and had recently renovated its processing plant in Bothell. These became Amgen facilities. The buyout involved cuts in personnel, mostly from Immunex, amounting to some 400 or 500 positions. Peggy Phillips, Chief Operating Officer for Immunex, left the company.
In 2014, Amgen announced that, as part of a reduction in its worldwide workforce and real estate holdings, it would close both former Immunex locations, in Seattle and Bothell, and sell off the Seattle waterfront property.