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Life Sciences Booming in Washington and Seattle

From her position atop the Washington life sciences scene, Leslie Alexandre has seen a lot. She is expected to leave the industry association Life Science Washington after five years as president and CEO at the end of this year. This period coincided with robust expansion in the state’s emerging biotech sector. Biotech startups in the region had a lengthy history of being acquired by giant corporations, which either shut down or relocated their operations. For example, Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, California, had recently closed its waterfront operations in Seattle’s downtown when Alexandre arrived.

Some of the more than 600 people who worked there had stayed when Amgen bought Seattle biotech Immunex. Many of them eventually dispersed among the numerous biotech companies sprung up in the region since then. Since 2016, a lot has changed. According to a recent analysis from Ernst & Young, the state is riding a national biotech IPO wave, with five biotech companies set to go public in 2021, topping tech IPOs in deal volumes and total proceeds.

Sana Biotechnology raised $587 million in its initial public offering (IPO), Absci raised $200 million, and vaccine manufacturer Icosavax raised over $180 million. According to Alexandre, commercial real estate giant CBRE designated Seattle the top “developing” biotech market in 2019. According to Alexandre, powerful institutions such as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the University of Washington have long been renowned as an “amazing research cluster.”

Not only is the startup ecosystem thriving, but existing businesses are also staying and expanding in the region, according to Alexandre. Seagen, formed in 1997 as Seattle Genetics, today has a global presence with over 1,700 people. The corporation has kept its headquarters in Bothell, Washington, and is expanding in the state.

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