Novo Nordisk, a Danish drug company, got 5,000 applications for the 35 jobs

Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has a lot of history in Seattle, but that’s not why it picked the city for a new research center that opens today. The company chose Seattle because of the its high number of potential employees with backgrounds in unraveling the secrets of the human immune system, executives said.

“We did a full search,” said Terje Kalland, Novo Nordisk’s senior vice president of biopharmaceutical research. “We looked into where — in the world — would be the best recruitment grounds for experts.”

The scientists it hires in Seattle will do early-stage research on therapies for autoimmune diseases — a vast category that includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis. Novo Nordisk expects to have 60 employees working by the end of next year.

The South Lake Union research center, at the corner of Mercer Street and Fairview Avenue North, will be close to the biomedical scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Benaroya Research Institute, as well as students, faculty and researchers at the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

It will also be near ZymoGenetics, a pioneering Seattle biotech company Novo Nordisk owned from 1988 until spinning it off earlier this decade.

Both companies will be working on autoimmune and inflammation research, but Kalland said they are different enough that they wouldn’t be in competition. Don Foster, who’s in charge of the new Novo Nordisk research site, spent 22 years at ZymoGenetics.

So far, Novo Nordisk has received 5,000 applications for its 35 available research positions here.

“These are obviously very good jobs at a very good company. It lends credence to the Pacific Northwest and the kinds of talents and abilities we have here,” said Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

He said the high number of applicants wasn’t surprising. “We held a career fair here in July and we had seven companies. And we had 700 applicants for that,” he said.

Foster said the jobs are popular because they’re rewarding. “People want to work in a (field) where their work makes a difference,” he said.

He added that there aren’t a lot of similar positions available at other companies.

“It’s a tough time in the industry,” he said.

After discovery-stage research on potential autoimmune-disease therapies is done in Seattle, further development will be done in Måløv, Denmark, and Beijing.

“It looks good so far,” said Kalland. “Now we just need to make a few drugs.”

Kaitlin Strohschein: 206-515-5618 or

Vulcan plans new UW building

Vulcan Real Estate has submitted preliminary paperwork to build a seven-story research building for UW Medicine in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

The 131,000-square-foot building would be at Eighth Avenue North and Republican Street, said Vulcan spokeswoman Lori Mason Curran. The site is across the street from nearly 400,000 square feet of lab and office space Vulcan has built or renovated for UW Medicine over the past six years.

UW Medicine spokeswoman Tina Mankowski said the university should decide in January whether to exercise an option to expand its South Lake Union health-sciences campus. Vulcan wants to have a head start on the new building if UW Medicine gives the go-ahead, Mason Curran said.

The city’s Queen Anne/Magnolia Design Review Board is to review preliminary plans Oct. 7.

If the building is built, Mason Curran said, construction would start in January 2011 and last about two years. About 600 people would work there.

Two more buildings totaling about 290,000 square feet could be built later for UW Medicine on the same block.

— Eric Pryne