OncoGenex Technologies of Vancouver, B. C., is opening a modest Seattle office with two executives and five others hired from Corixa, which...

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OncoGenex Technologies of Vancouver, B.C., is opening a modest Seattle office with two executives and five others hired from Corixa, which is cutting staff after its recent sale.

But many of the employees let go by area biotechs this year will face a more difficult market, some observers said.

Corixa has cut 230 people since December, including 70 who received notices after GlaxoSmithKline bought the company in July. The workers joined at least 122 laid-off biotech employees from Seattle-area companies Cell Therapeutics, NeoRX and Xcyte Therapies, all of which announced job cuts this year.

“There are some very well-educated, very talented people who through no fault of their own are not finding positions because the local marketplace just can’t support it,” said Bruce Root, a senior technical recruiter at Triad Group in Bellevue.

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“There’s just not enough companies with enough positions to pick these people up,” he said.

OncoGenex, which is focused on treatment-resistant cancer, hired Dr. Cindy Jacobs as its executive vice president and chief medical officer, and Dr. Monica Krieger as vice president of regulatory affairs. Both women served in similar positions at Corixa.

OncoGenex President and Chief Executive Scott Cormack said recent layoffs among Seattle biotechs have left a “pretty good pool of talent,” though he noted finding someone with the skills to run clinical trials for the company’s leading drug candidate was challenging.

The company is testing its tumor-fighting drug, OGX-011, in two ongoing Phase 2 studies of patients with prostate cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer

Two more Phase 2 studies of patients with breast cancer and lung cancer are expected to begin this fall, Cormack said.

In total, 244 patients will participate in the trials, the OncoGenex CEO said.

The shakeup after Glaxo’s $300 million acquisition of Corixa presented OncoGenex with an opportunity to hire a top talent like Jacobs, which the small company might not have had.

“I think it would have been quite difficult to dislodge her if that circumstance hadn’t been there,” Cormack said.

Jacobs, 48, said she was approached by three Seattle-area companies as well as firms from the Bay Area.

The Falls City resident said that despite a job market that “has narrowed from past years,” she wanted to stay in the Puget Sound area and continue cancer research.

Other former Corixa employees, including Chief Financial Officer Michelle Burris, have moved to jobs at local companies such as Dendreon.

Former Corixa Chief Executive Steve Gillis joined Arch Venture Partners of Seattle, an active biotechnology investor.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com