The Edwards Agency

Business

Northshore High Tech: ICOS, a biotech innovator

Bryan Jones

ICOS scientist Bryan Jones.
Photo courtesy of Gordon Mitchell.

Northshore High Tech by Gordon Mitchell, Ph.D.
Most startup organizations hope to produce net income in a year or two. How would you feel if your 6-year-old company was down $88 million and still spending?
   George Rathmann, the chairman of ICOS Corporation, is optimistic as the company continues to develop products to manage diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
   The Bothell campus of ICOS is a center for innovation. Scientists there identify new molecules that are important in the human inflammation process. Their goal is to produce products that are helpful to patients because they are more accurately aimed at medical problems than are existing drugs. I suspect that if they are successful they will repay 10 times the $82 million investment.
   About 90 percent of the 190 employees at ICOS are in R&D. Directing this group requires a special brand of creativity--George Rathmann's specialty.
   Bothell resident Bryan Jones spoke to me in his lab about the company and his interests in the community. He is able to balance the special demands of biological research with commitments to his family by living five minutes from work. That allows him to drop in quickly on weekends and evenings to check on an experiment without missing out on kids' soccer, baseball, or gymnastics.
   The heart of the development process is gaining a new understanding of the incredibly complex design of the human immune response. This involves white blood cell recruitment, communication between the white blood cells and cells lining the blood vessel walls, and destruction of invading microorganisms and viruses. Research at ICOS has identified fundamental mechanisms and molecules that may be useful to regulate inflammatory problems.
   After research work is completed, key product candidates are made by several production systems that use living cells which have genetic material pasted into them. This process takes place in precisely controlled conditions. Products are purified and used in developmental programs.
   Company stockholders are much more interested in the commercialization phase of the operation than R&D, since that is where they expect to make money.
   Production hardware is just now being assembled. Industry analysts expect that the government approval process may be complete, allowing product sales, as early as 1999.

Gordon Mitchell has a background in the engineering management of high tech organizations. He is a principal of Future Focus, a Woodinville company that provides an unusual investigative service, working with commercial clients who suspect they may be victims of electronic eavesdropping. Future Focus performs specialized inspections to locate bugs and taps that may have been installed by unethical competitors or dissatisfied employees. Gordon can be contacted at 489-0446 or via e-mail at gordonm@Bug-Killer.com.