ZymoGenetics' CEO transition is expected to go smoothly, analysts say.

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Bruce Carter, the executive who led ZymoGenetics from its baby steps as an independent biotech through the launch this year of its first commercial product, had been preparing for his retirement for a long time.

In 2007, the 65-year old chief executive passed the title of president to Doug Williams, the Immunex veteran who will assume the Seattle company’s top job as CEO in January. The change will be smooth, most analysts say — and Carter will remain chairman of the board of directors.

Nevertheless, Carter’s announcement Friday of his departure left him “a little sad, I have to say,” said the native of England with typical British understatement. He said he hopes a little detachment will give him a better view of things to come for his embattled company, whose shares have fallen sharply this year as investors react to its drug’s slow debut.

“When you step away from the day-to-day activity, you can see more clearly. It’s very hard when you’re in the trenches to see where the world is taking us,” he said Friday.

Charismatic leader

Carter has been a charismatic advocate of the local biotech industry, and his departure from ZymoGenetics comes at a time of transformation — and woe — for many Seattle-area life-sciences companies.

Some firms have merged and others had major layoffs because of disappointing results. Many, like Targeted Genetics — whose longtime CEO H. Stewart Parker quit this month — are struggling to raise cash at a time when investors are scared of investing in costly long-term ventures.

Carter said the weakest companies have to fail so that there’s more money available to those with strong prospects. Things will get better with time, he said.

“This is not a time to go wobbly,” he said, quoting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s comment to President Bush at the time of the first Gulf War. “This is the time to tighten your belt, roll up your sleeves and get on with it.”

Unlike some local companies, ZymoGenetics has a decent amount of cash in hand — some $81 million in cash and short-term investments at the end of September, and a $100 million line of credit. The company drew $25 million from that credit line this month, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

No surprise

Analysts who follow ZymoGenetics were not surprised by Carter’s departure and the appointment of Williams, a veteran of Immunex, the local biotech that launched blockbuster arthritis drug Enbrel.

“Williams has been groomed as heir apparent,” said Paul Latta, of McAdams Wright Ragen.

There may be some change in style, though. Carter was known as the “diplomat and statesman” of the company, while Williams is “more of the hard-charging scientist,” Latta said.

As ZymoGenetics deals with the ramp-up in sales of its blood-clotting drug Recothrom, and extends its other research efforts, that leadership change represents “the natural evolution of things.”

David Miller, an analyst with Biotech Stock Research who owns stock in the company, said ZymoGenetics is “in fabulous hands.”

Besides leading ZymoGenetics’ board of directors, Carter said he will be the chairman of the Tuberculosis Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks the development of new drugs to treat that ailment.

He will also join the board of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company based in India.

Ex-Olympic rower

The former Olympic rower — who was part of the British team in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics — will also dedicate time to a longtime passion: gardening.

“I love putting seeds in the ground and seeing them grow to become a flower,” he said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com