While it is not clear whether a name change had to do anything about the Islamist radical militant group, Isis Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based biotech company, decided to change its name to Ionis Pharmaceuticals.
The company also changed its name to ticker symbol on Nasdaq and it will be switched from ISIS to IONS on December 22.
After months of brushing off colleagues, advisors and even random strangers who were urging him to discard the moniker shared by the Islamic terrorist organization, he finally decided to make the change, said the CEO and founder of the company, Stanley Crooke.
“My underlying concern was that the name was a distraction. To spend any time during a four-minute TV interview, for example, discussing our name, rather than focusing on how exciting things are at Isis today with three drugs finishing Phase 3 development and a pipeline of 40 drugs, just makes no sense,” Crooke said.
Crooke recalls that notions about changing the company name first came up in a TV interview in September 2014. At the TV show of investor Jim Cramer’s on CNBC, Cramer suggested that the company’s name was becoming a problem, as the terror group’s violence stole more and more of the headlines.
“You can’t laugh off things,” Cramer said to Crooke, suggesting that he needed the CEO’s “help” figuring out how to talk about the company every time he mentioned its name.
“We’ve been Isis for 25 years and I don’t feel like I want to capitulate to these terrorists by changing my name. They can change their name,” Crooke had responded. “They can change their name.” (See video below.)
After working in the oncology development firm at Bristol – Myers Squibb, Crooke, a physician and Ph.D. who founded Isis in 1989. The possibility of changing the name had come up in conversations with his colleagues over the last year. A few months ago, a team of Isis employees started looking into what would be involved in the name change.
However after a survey of Isis’ institutional investors revealed no serious concerns about the company’s name, Crooke was reluctant to agree to a change even as some of the colleagues occasionally stopped by Crooke’s office to gingerly raise the topic, he adds.
However Crook realized that he had to relent after the Paris attacks on November 13. The risk that some of his employees could run into security issues when they traveled internationally or they could be attacked at home because of their affiliation with an entity named Isis was the primary concern for Crooke even as the issue of distraction played a role in the changing of the name. The final decision was taken soon after the San Bernardino shootings on December 2, he says.
“What was difficult was capitulating to what I consider a transient phenomenon that I don’t think we should be focusing on in the way we are,” Crooke says.
While the name has become almost synonymous with the Islamic State militant group, Isis is most closely associated with an Egyptian goddess of health.
“To my knowledge, no other biotech company has had to change its name because of some bunch of lunatics somewhere else,” Crooke said.