A sad goodbye to Seattle Central Community College biotech

I learned via e-mail yesterday that the biotechnology program, that I taught with for ten years during the 90's, is ending due to low enrollments.

I also learned yesterday, via the Seattle Times, that a resurrected version of ICOS called CMC Icos Biologics is planning a $35M expansion of their biotech manufacturing plant in Bothell and talking about hiring lots of students with two-year degrees.

The irony isn't lost on me.

We struggled with variable enrollments too, when I was at Seattle Central Community College. A couple of years saw way too many students and troubles finding enough internships, and in other years, we had way too few. Having just the right number of students was a difficult goal to achieve.

We were challenged, too, by the diverse goals that our students wished to pursue and the diverse educational backgrounds that they had when the entered the program. A third or more of the students entered the program with bachelor's degrees or higher, another third wanted to be able to transfer to UW, and the other third were fine with a two-year program but not always happy with the difficulty of the courses or the amount of work involved.

Still, the biggest problem for us was the job market. Although the University of Washington is one of the top institutions in getting NIH grants, the investment in research has not translated to a growing biotech industry. Biotech in the Puget Sound area has been shrinking, not growing.

As the Seattle Times article mentioned:

Most of the 700 workers at Icos, the developer of erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis, were axed in 2007 when it was acquired by pharmaceutical giant Lilly.

And, later:

CMC Icos Biologics' bid for growth comes amid a widespread downsizing in the local biotechnology sector. In recent months, companies such as Nastech Pharmaceuticals and Northstar Neurosciences have shed dozens of jobs and refocused their research efforts after key clinical trials failed.

In August, Sonus Pharmaceuticals merged with Vancouver, B.C.'s OncoGenex Technologies and fired most of its Bothell staff.

ZymoGenetics, which employs more people than any other independent local biotech, also laid off some personnel at the beginning of the year.

CMC Icos, has big plans for growth but unfortunate timing.

Hello CMC Icos, goodbye SCCC.

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That's too bad.... Having graduated the Biotech program in '93, I would like to say how much I appreciated your passion for science and your ability to teach so many relevant skills; skills that I utilized in my job at Immunex and Amgen for over 10 years.
Remember in'93 we didn't have access to a cycler of any type, so we were floating our PCR reactions in water baths with our eyes on the stopwatch! Those were the days! Despite a dearth of lab equipment you did an outstanding job of getting all the key concepts across, and I'm thankful to have benefited by being your student.

Randy Hall


I was sure glad when we got a thermocycler for doing PCR!