Seattle's newest biotech startup, Cell Therapeutics, Inc., incorporates in September 1991.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 3/15/2010
  • Essay 9360
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In September 1991, the founders of Seattle's newest biotechnology firm, Cell Therapeutics, Inc. (CTI), file incorporation documents with the office of the Washington secretary of state. The company (actually called Combined Therapeutics, Inc, for its first several months) was launched to explore a series of promising drugs and techniques aimed at combating the deleterious side effects of chemotherapy regimens.

Making Cancer More Treatable

CTI -- whose ambitious goal and motto is "Making Cancer More Treatable" -- was initially led by a medical braintrust that had met while working at Seattle's esteemed Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute: Dr. James A. Bianco, Dr. Jack Singer, and Dr. George Todaro. Their company's core strategy would be to attempt to improve the formulation of already approved cancer treatment drugs, mainly by delivering them in conjunction with "small molecule" biodegradable polyglutamate polymers that allow better access to, and  absorption within, cancerous cells -- all while being easier for patients to tolerate.  

The team recruited an impressive scientific board that included key advisors such as the Institute's Dr. Stuart Bursten, Dr. C. Dean Buckner, Dr. Fred Appelbaum, chemist Ward Harris, and Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (1920-2012), who won the 1990 Nobel Prize in medicine for pioneering dose-intensive chemotherapy. In addition CTI added Bianco's brother, the New York-based financial executive Louis A. Bianco (as executive vice president, finance, and administration). From the get-go CTI was an ambitious enterprise. Within its first year CTI filed federal applications for hundreds of drug-compound patents.  

The Tech Boom

Though Todaro didn't stay long, he did introduce CTI to New York's D. Blech & Co. brokerage firm, which, with others, helped the Seattle firm raise a then-remarkable $30 million in financing by October 1993. In time -- through the go-go tech boom 1990s and beyond into less frenzied days -- CTI would eventually attract more than $1.5 billion in investments. The bio-pharmaceutical realm is volatile and cash-intensive, and hopes and dreams can be dashed, or resurrected, based on scientific testing and governmental reviews -- a process that is typically long and arduous, involving a decade or more of testing supported by many millions of dollars of shareholders' funds.  

Of the many drug compounds and novel cancer treatments that CTI has tested, thus far only one -- Trisenox -- has received approval (on September 26, 2000) from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to commercialize the product for use in the fight against relapsed leukemia. Other drug candidates were undergoing trials.

Sources: Jim Erickson, "Research Form's Firms' Nucleus: New Biotech Company to Receive $30 Million," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 7, 1992 (; Tricia Duryee, "CTI drug Gets Green Light Biotech's Stock Jumps as FDA Approves Leukemia Treatment," The Seattle Times, September 27, 2000 (; Duff Wilson and David Heath, "He Helped Create the Biotech Boom and When It Went Bust, so Did He," Ibid., March 13, 2001 (; Duff Wilson and David Heath, "Here, Based on Financial Records in the Public Domain, Are Some of the Progeny of 'Mother Hutch,'" Ibid., March 14, 2001 (; CTI website accessed on October 5, 2009 ( 

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