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Thursday, October 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Glaxo's vaccine unit in Bothell to close

Seattle Times business reporter

GlaxoSmithKline will shut down its vaccine-research operation in Bothell by the end of the year, laying off about 70 highly skilled local biotech workers.

The London-based pharmaceutical giant delivered the news in an all-employee meeting in Bothell on Wednesday, according to two employees.

The decision came 10 months after the company acquired the Bothell research center through its $1.4 billion acquisition of Vancouver, B.C.-based ID Biomedical.

Company officials could not be reached for comment, but a public announcement is expected today.

The layoffs are another setback for the region's biotech industry, one week after Eli Lilly announced its takeover of Bothell-based Icos.

Lilly said it plans to cut "a significant number" of the 500 local Icos employees and has not said yet whether it will keep any presence in the state.

The closure isn't the first one locally for GlaxoSmithKline. Last year, it bought Seattle-based Corixa and quickly laid off its 110 local employees.

Researchers at the Bothell labs have been working on biodefense contracts, mainly on genetically engineered vaccines for plague and anthrax.

That work never fit GlaxoSmithKline's plans, and the drug maker tried to sell the operation, said David Clary, an operations-support manager for the company.

GlaxoSmithKline bought ID Biomedical primarily for its injectable-flu-vaccine factory in Quebec, Clary said.

The acquisition paid off three weeks ago, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave approval to sell vaccine from the Quebec factory in time for the upcoming flu season.

Todd Patrick, the former president of ID Biomedical and founder of the Bothell operation, said he was disappointed.

"Obviously it would have been great to see the project continue," Patrick said.

He said he's unsure how high a priority GlaxoSmithKline is putting on two other projects developed at the Bothell labs — a new children's vaccine for strep throat and a nasal-spray flu vaccine.

Clary said the biodefense work was unattractive to corporate suitors because few people want to take a vaccine to protect them from the slim chance of getting plague or anthrax, and the military market is too small to justify the research expense.

The strep-throat vaccine, while promising in early safety studies, would take an enormous and expensive clinical trial to prove effectiveness.

At its peak, Patrick said the company had about 100 employees in Bothell.

ID Biomedical opened its local labs in 1996 and built a team of molecular biologists, protein chemists, and immunologists.

"It's a pretty big blow to local biotech," Patrick said. "But they are high-quality people there. They should be fine."

Clary, who has bachelor's degrees in chemistry and biology, said he's grown disillusioned by getting laid off for a second time in biotech.

Because of the industry's volatility, he is making a career switch.

At 50, he's going back to school to learn how to fit amputees with prosthetic limbs.

"It's difficult for the biotech industry here to grow because the ones who become successful get bought out, and after that, the acquiring company usually takes the successful product and drops the rest," Clary said. "What's left are companies that haven't made it yet. It's survival of the weakest."

Luke Timmerman: 206-515-5644 or ltimmerman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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