Research company leaving Olympia after 45 years, moving to Puyallup

Staff writerJune 26, 2013 

The Western Institutional Review Board, a research company that employs more than 200 and has been based in Olympia for 45 years, will leave Thurston County at the end of the year, a representative of the company said Wednesday.

The company will move to Pierce County in December because it was unable to find an Olympia-area home that was large enough to combine the review board’s two Olympia campuses, chief compliance officer David Forster said.

“The only place we could find that was big enough for all of us was in Puyallup,” he said, adding that the new destination is a facility near the Puyallup branch of Pierce College that is owned by The Benaroya Company.

Forster said company officials like Olympia, but the dictates of the company required a new home.

“We looked very hard in the Olympia area for our needs,” he said.

The Western Institutional Review Board was founded in Olympia by Dr. Angela Bowen in 1968. Bowen, an endocrinologist, practiced medicine until about 1991, then sold the review board in 2007 to a Boston-based private equity group. It was sold again in 2012 to a New York-based private equity group called Arsenal Capital Partners.

The review board is not easily explained, but here’s how Arsenal Capital Partners described the company when it announced its acquisition:

“Institutional review boards, which are mandated by federal and international regulations, review and approve the handling of ethical issues in research protocols before research involving human volunteers can begin,” Arsenal Capital said in a news release.

The release goes on to say that “WIRB pioneered the concept of the independent IRB.”

Bowen was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

The review board’s two Olympia campuses are in west Olympia: one near Capital Medical Center and the other is not far from the Thurston County Courthouse. It also has a view of U.S. Highway 101.

Buildings in both areas were developed by Bowen, including most recently the building near the courthouse, a four-story medical office building that cost $8 million and opened in 2009. The building is named after her father, Louis Walker Middleton; the buildings near Capital Medical Center are named after her mother, Irene Hardin Middleton.

The review board also has a location in Vancouver, B.C., according to its website.

Thurston County Economic Development Council Executive Director Michael Cade said Wednesday that as soon as he learned that WIRB might be leaving, he rallied his troops and resources to find the right spot for them. He said review board officials looked at nine sites: five in Thurston County and four in Pierce County.

“We certainly tried to keep them here,” Cade said.

He said he was sorry and disappointed about the relocation, but wished them success in the future.

“We do heartily wish them well,” he said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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