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Friday, July 20, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rathmann joins ZymoGenetics

Seattle Times business reporter

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ZymoGenetics has named legendary biotechnology entrepreneur George Rathmann as its chairman to help it capitalize on its research and to lay the groundwork for an initial public offering.

The Seattle-based drug researcher has been finding its bearings as an independent company after being spun off by Danish drug giant Novo Nordisk in October.

Rathmann said he was attracted at that time as an investor because of his longtime respect for its scientists and for its chief executive, Bruce Carter.

Now his job is to bring some entrepreneurial juice to an outfit that spent 12 years as a well-funded research wing of a drug giant.

"As an independent company, Zymo has to bring products completely on their own to the market," Rathmann said. "You need a tremendous sense of urgency, and you need the resources, and I can help there."

Rathmann, 73, made his name in the biotech world as a founder at Amgen in the 1980s and at Bothell-based Icos in the 1990s.

He led efforts at Amgen to take research science to the marketplace, hitting it big with Epogen, a human protein used to treat anemia, and Neupogen, which stimulates white blood cells to prevent infection in chemotherapy patients.

Later, Rathmann positioned Icos as a rising pharmaceutical company with treatments for impotence and severe sepsis, a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

Since it was founded in 1981, ZymoGenetics has grown to nearly 300 employees, and its research has translated into five therapeutic protein products on the market.

Now it is betting its massive portfolio of 180 patents will turn into some effective therapeutic proteins. It has identified potential products to reduce post-surgical bleeding, stroke, cancer and autoimmune disease, but none have advanced into the clinical-trial process.

Chief Financial Officer James Johnson, who came to ZymoGenetics in January from Targeted Genetics, said ZymoGenetics has enough cash for three or four years.

Still, a public offering is a goal, and Rathmann's presence and know-how will help ratchet up fund raising and drug development, Johnson said.

"We feel very privileged to have him as our chairman," Johnson said. "It's going to be a big part of us being successful."

Others in the biotechnology industry speak in reverent tones of Rathmann and applauded the move.

"He's one of the most respected people in biotechnology," said Perry Fell, chief executive of Seattle Genetics. "Obviously, he has a vision of how to move things forward."

Luke Timmerman can be reached at 206-515-5644 or ltimmerman@seattletimes.com.

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