Seattle Genetics founder and chief executive Clay Siegall. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

Seattle Genetics founder and chief executive Clay Siegall. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

Seattle Genetics plans to expand and add 200 workers

SEATTLE — The Pacific Northwest’s biggest biotech firm — Seattle Genetics — is poised to go from being a one-drug company to one with a suite of products and global sales in the next few years, the firm’s chief executive said Thursday.

The Bothell-based firm plans to add 200 employees this year, pushing its total to more than 1,100, Seattle Genetics CEO Clay Siegall told local investment analysts at The Metropolitan Grill in Seattle.

The company expects to bring four or five new drugs to market in coming years. Its current product, Adcetris, could soon become a go-to drug for treating one of the main types of lymphoma.

But it hasn’t been all sunny for the firm.

Seattle Genetics temporarily halted a handful of cancer-drug trials last year involving high-risk patients to determine if its experimental treatment was linked to liver damage in six people, four of whom died.

The company’s share price plunged from $61.86 to $52.36 — a decline of about 15 percent — when the news broke last December.

The drug, SGN-CD33A, which fights an aggressive type of leukemia, continued to be tested in other trials, which were not halted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drug has performed well in those trials, which involve hundreds of patients, Siegall said.

“I have no problem whatsoever with the FDA” asking the company to pause trials and investigate, he said.

Patient safety is paramount. The problem was Wall Street’s reaction, he said.

Since then, the company’s share price has recovered most of what it lost, reaching $59.27 when the market closed Thursday.

Seattle Genetics added about 100 employees in 2016, and expects more growth in the months ahead as it plans to bring on more workers handling clinical, regulatory and manufacturing matters.

Currently, contractors handle its drug manufacturing. However, the company is considering building its own production facility, Siegall said.

The company has no particular location in mind, he said.

“A lot of states offer a lot of assistance, which you don’t see here” in Washington, he said.

For example, a Washington state tax credit for research and development equipment went away a few years ago, he said.

“To me, they’re trying to save a few bucks” at the risk of losing jobs in biotech and other advanced industries, he said.

Drug prices have been a persistent part of national conversations about health care in recent years. Sudden price increases to some medicines have prompted widespread condemnation, such as in 2015 when Turing Pharmaceuticals jacked the cost of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 a pill.

Turing did not develop the drug, which was created in the 1950s. Instead, it bought the rights to make and sell the medication, which is used to prevent malaria and treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection dangerous to unborn children and people with weakened immune systems.

The drug industry needs to set fair pricing guidelines, “so that we don’t have charlatans who are not innovating and not making great drugs and are buying up 50-year-old drugs … and jacking up the price by 3,000 percent and trying to say that that’s fair,” Siegall said. “That is completely unfair.”

At the same time, it is expensive to develop new and beneficial medications. Perhaps one out of 20 serious experiments make it from the lab to market. Prices have to cover the costs and provide incentive to develop new drugs that will improve people’s lives, he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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