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Chad Robins, left, is co-founder and CEO of Adaptive Biotechnologies, which he co-founded with his brother, Harlan Robins, right, a theoretical physicist turned computational biologist who is the company’s chief scientific officer. (Adaptive Biotechnologies Photo)

Chad Robins is a Cornell grad and Wharton School MBA who was working in real estate finance a decade ago when he was approached with a business idea by his brother, Harlan Robins, longtime head of the Computational Biology Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

As Chad Robins recalled on a panel discussion last year, “When he called me up in 2009 and said, ‘Hey I want to start a business, I’ve figured out how to sequence T-cells at a high throughput,’ I was like, ‘Yes, I’m in!’ and then I went to Wikipedia and I’m like, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ I don’t know the difference between a T-cell receptor and a T-bone steak.”

Chad figured it out. A decade later, the company they created and built together, Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies, is using the genetic code of the immune system in an effort to transform the diagnosis and treatment of disease. It’s valued at well over $1 billion and employs 350 people. It has partnerships with industry giants Microsoft and Genentech, and this past week it filed to raise $230 million in an initial public offering.

Adaptive is the first Seattle-area company to announce its IPO plans this year. The last Seattle-area company to go public was sales tax automation software maker Avalara in June 2018. Smartsheet, DocuSign, and nLight were the other Washington state companies that had an IPO last year.

On this episode of the GeekWire podcast, we get the inside story of Adaptive Biotechnologies and share what we learned in its IPO filing.

Listen to the show above, or subscribe in your favorite podcast app, and continue reading for some of the highlights.

  • Microsoft partnership involved both give and take. As part of a joint effort to create a blood test that can diagnose dozens of diseases at once, Microsoft invested $45 million in Adaptive in late 2017. In return, Adaptive committed to spending a minimum of $12 million on Azure cloud services over the lifetime of the seven-year deal.
  • The hardest part is yet to come. Adaptive’s efforts will most likely take years to come to fruition — if they ever do. The company’s diagnostic efforts with Microsoft are built on new technology and may not pan out. And Adaptive’s deal with Genentech involves creating novel personalized cancer therapies, which will require years of effort and significant expense. The deal also gives Genentech control over the commercialization of whatever they make and prevents Adaptive from working on similar projects with other drugmakers.
  • Adaptive is losing money, but not that much money. The company reported a net loss of $46.4 million with sales totaling $55.6 million. That’s not too bad for a biotech company at this stage — for a rough comparison, Palo Alto, Calif.-based BridgeBio Pharma posted losses of $169 million in its recent IPO prospectus. Adaptive also has $440 million in cash on hand, giving it a good amount of runway.

Correction: Chad Robins and Harlan Robins hold about the same amount of equity in the company, which wasn’t apparent from the IPO filing because some of the stock is held in trusts. Chad earned $3.2 million in salary and stock options last year, versus Harlan’s $2.2 million, according to the filing.

For more, here is Chad Robins discussing the company last year on a Seattle Rotary panel moderated by GeekWire’s Todd Bishop.

Also read: 3 leadership lessons from Adaptive Biotech CEO Chad Robins

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