Targeted Genetics chief H. Stewart Parker steps down after nearly two decades, and her successor says "the alarm bells are ringing" for Seattle gene therapy company.

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Longtime Targeted Genetics chief executive H. Stewart Parker has stepped down, the struggling biotechnology company said Monday.

Parker and Chief Scientific Officer Barrie Carter both resigned effective Thursday, Nov. 6.

Parker led the creation of Targeted Genetics in 1989 as a spin-off from Immunex, and has been one of the most prominent executives in the Seattle biotech scene. She will remain on the board of directors.

Susan Robinson, who previously led licensing and partnering activities for the Seattle company, is the new CEO.

Robinson faces the challenge of keeping the company a viable concern — not an easy task for a development-stage firm with no commercial products at a time when both equity and debt markets are suffering. The company has enough money to last it through the first quarter of 2009.

“The alarm bells are ringing,” said Robinson in an interview. “It’s time to put together the pieces that allow the company to move forward.”

Robinson said her goal is to create as much value as possible for shareholders, with options that include merging with another company, raising additional cash, or licensing some of its science.

She said cuts in the company’s 65 to 70-strong workforce are a possibility. “Everything is on the table,” Robinson said.

The change of the guard comes after a rocky year and a half for Targeted Genetics, which specializes in gene therapy, a frontier area of biotechnology. Targeted Genetics shares plummeted last July after a patient died during a clinical trial for its experimental rheumathoid arthritis treatment. The stock never really recovered — despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined last December that the company’s treatment did not cause the death.

Nevertheless, shares fell below the $1 mark in March, endangering the company’s status as a publicly-traded entity. (The Nasdaq market requires companies to trade above a certain threshold to remain public, but the recent collapse of financial markets has made Nasdaq suspend enforcement for now.)

In April, the company had a bout of good news: a small clinical trial conducted with British scientists showed positive results in patients afflicted with a rare congenital sight ailment — an uncommon victory in the promising, but so-far unyielding field of gene therapy. But the success failed to revive the company’s standing in the eyes of investors.

Parker wasn’t available for comment. The end of her tenure underscores the transformation Targeted Genetics must face.

“It affects us emotionally and philosophically,” said Robinson.

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