SAN DIEGO -- Here at the annual American Society of Hematology meeting, it's ground zero for Idec's (IDPH:Nasdaq) transition from "biotech" to company.
Idec got its first round of venture capital in September 1986 and went public in 1991. It pushed its drug Rituxan for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma into the clinic in March 1993, setting aside its lead compound. That was when monoclonal antibodies those magic heralds of the biotech revolution -- had come up bust.
For years, the stock drifted, hitting a low of 2 1/8 in early 1995, unloved, trading "damn near cash," recalls Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Rastetter at an informal breakfast here. Elsewhere in the room, analysts and company scientists huddle together over lousy bagels and wonderful fruit, exchanging tidbits of data and doing research on the opposition, just out of range of the El Nino rainstorm that has Easterners cursing their fate. "I came to California for his?"
Despite the spectacular flame-out of several biotechs' monoclonals, Idec managed to sign a deal with Genentech (GNE:NYSE) in March 1995 and began to turn around. Gradually, monoclonal antibodies came back as the science advanced. The targets improved, the drugs were engineered to be less likely to cause immune system reactions, the manufacturing got cheaper. "They were trying to have home run indications for which nothing works," says Nabil Hanna, the head of research and pre-clinical developent at Idec, recalling the monoclonal mistakes in solid tumors and sepsis. "It was not a problem with the antibodies, it was a problem of the disease."