Targeted Genetics said Monday that its longtime chief executive, H. Stewart Parker, had stepped down — marking the end of an era for the struggling biotechnology company, which must scramble to survive an upcoming cash crunch.

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Targeted Genetics said Monday its longtime chief executive, H. Stewart Parker, had stepped down — marking the end of an era for the struggling biotechnology company, which must scramble to survive an upcoming cash crunch.

Parker and Chief Scientific Officer Barrie Carter both resigned effective last Thursday. Parker led the creation of Targeted Genetics in 1989 as a subsidiary of 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, no 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,” Robinson said 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.

“Everything is on the table,” she said.

She said cuts in the company’s 65- to 70-person work force are a possibility.

David Miller, president of Seattle-based Biotech Stock Research, said the company has difficult prospects, as there’s not much cash out there for biotechnology, much less for unproven fields like gene therapy.

“There’s just really no place for them to go. It’s unfortunate,” he said.

Parker wasn’t available for comment.

She began her biotech career as the first employee hired by the founders of Immunex, a biotech home-run that was later bought by Amgen for $16 billion.

She led Targeted Genetics when it first started within Immunex and headed its spinoff in 1992.

Parker is a director of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a national trade group based in Washington, D.C.

A University of Washington MBA graduate with no previous scientific background before joining Immunex, “she’s been able to keep (Targeted Genetics) alive for the longest time,” Miller said.

The end of Parker’s tenure underscores the transformation Targeted Genetics must face. “It affects us emotionally and philosophically,” said Robinson.

The change at the top comes after a rocky year and a half for the company, which specializes in gene therapy, a frontier area of biotechnology.

Targeted Genetics shares plummeted July 2007 after a patient died during a clinical trial for its experimental rheumathoid-arthritis treatment.

The stock never really recovered, despite the fact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined last December that the company’s treatment did not cause the death.

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 some 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 sofar unyielding field of gene therapy.

But the success failed to revive the company’s standing in the eyes of investors.

Targeted Genetics shares closed at 39 cents, up 4 percent from Friday but far below their 52-week high of $2.30.

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

This story includes material from The Seattle Times archive.