Dr. Earl W. Davie, a pioneer in the field of biotechnology whose work in the field of blood clotting laid the foundation for new ways to treat wounds, hemophilia, heart attacks and strokes, died June 6 of complications related to old age. He was 93.
While a professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Davie was first to accurately describe the chain reaction of proteins that form — and later, dissolve — blood clots. The work was critical in developing treatments to stanch bleeding, particularly for those hemophiliacs whose immune systems attacked their own blood clotting proteins.
In 1981, Dr. Davie founded ZymoGenetics, one of the first biotechnology firms in the country, with Nobel Laureate Michael Smith and University of Washington colleague Ben Hall.
ZymoGenetics, which cloned human proteins to manufacture treatments for diabetes and hemophilia, among other diseases, was purchased by Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer Novo Nordisk in 1988 — allowing Novo to compete against Eli Lilly, by then producing its own version of human insulin. Early investors bought back ZymoGenetics in 2000, then took the company public in 2002; Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired it in 2010 for $885 million but in 2019 closed the operation and relinquished its laboratories in the old Seattle City Light Steam Plant on Lake Union to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Dr. Davie seeded the field of biochemistry with his proteges, who recall him as a “gentleman of science,” self-effacing and never brusque. The first thing many noticed about Dr. Davie was his height. Standing 6’4,” Dr. Davie was an avid basketball player, with a pass-snagging reach envied by some of the postdocs who joined him on the courts. In the lab, it was a struggle to find gloves to fit his large hands — on at least one occasion, Dr. Davie wore kitchen gloves.
Dr. Davie grew up in the town of La Grande, Pierce County. His father was a self-taught electrical engineer at the Alder hydropower plant who “creatively” wired the family home, said Dr. Davie’s son Jim. From his mother, Dr. Davie inherited an enthusiasm for fishing that stayed with him into his old age.
Young Dr. Davie was known for running the nearly 3 miles home from school while dribbling a basketball and driving around town in an antique Model A Ford. In summers, he cleared brush under power lines; in autumn, he hunted, once downing a buck so large his mother helped him carry it home in a wheelbarrow. At Eatonville High School — where he later endowed a $5,000 scholarship — Dr. Davie participated in nearly every activity on offer, said classmate Ray Kronquist. Gifted at sports and music, he considered becoming either a professional basketball player or playing clarinet in a big jazz band.
But it was biochemistry that caught his imagination after enrolling at the UW in 1950, where he would spend the rest of his career after assuming a professorship in 1962. His profession was his passion, said colleagues. Even after he officially retired in 2012, Dr. Davie came to the office nearly every day to review papers over a cup of Earl Grey tea, said UW professor and Bloodworks NW researcher Dominic Chung, who worked alongside Dr. Davie for nearly 40 years.
At work, Dr. Davie was gracious and rigorous — “the opposite of hype,” recalled UW professor and Bloodworks NW researcher Jose Lopez, who worked in Dr. Davie’s lab in the 1980s. He was a passionate about his research but bored by administrative details. Perpetually reluctant to voice any kind of dissatisfaction, Dr. Davie quietly sidestepped some of his bureaucratic duties by escaping to the laboratory. In one instance, Chung recalled, Dr. Davie — then chair of the university’s biochemistry department — spent days “at the bench” performing a relatively rote task: sequencing DNA.
Dr. Davie’s lab attracted researchers from around the globe, particularly Japan — from whom Dr. Davie developed a taste for sushi, which he often served at lab parties. To keep up with his far-flung colleagues and acquaintances, he traveled frequently; in later years, accompanied by his daughter Karen, an artist who died in January of pancreatic cancer.
Even after attaining international renown in the field of biochemistry, Dr. Davie remained a small-town boy, said Lopez. Quick to laugh — and to tease — he was fond of shooting the breeze with almost anyone willing to lend an ear about topics as diverse as octopuses, the theory of relativity or racial justice.
He had a green thumb, too: At his house in Clyde Hill, Dr. Davie grew massive dahlias, roses, berries and fruit, and was proud of the tomatoes that flourished at his vacation home near Hood Canal.
Dr. Davie is survived by his wife, Anita; children, Jim, John and Marilyn; four grandchildren and one great grandchild. Donations may be made to Eatonville Dollars for Scholars and designated “Honor Cup, In Memory of Earl Davie.”