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February 17, 2006

Life-science flavors

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:40 AM

The smorgasbord of local life-sciences intellects at last night's The Indus Entrepreneurs dinner in Bellevue far surpassed the variety on the buffet line.

The crowd of about 100 people heard from David Schubert chief business officer at venture-funded Accelerator (which has a spiffy new Web site). The nursery for newborn biotechs has yet to nurture a startup from one of Seattle's major research institutions, other than the Institute for Systems Biology, with which it's associated. That could be changing. "We are optimistic that in 2006 we will have our first institution-based spin out," he said.

Seattle science fiction author Greg Bear said President Bush's State of the Unionwarning about chimeras is one way he knows that science fact is catching up with science fiction. "Our worst fears are fighting our greatest hopes," he said.

Chad Waite of OVP Venture Partners spilled these beans: "We manage money for institutional partners to make money." Um, yeah. One way to do that is by investing where there's a potential for "unfair profits" -- not necessarily monopolies, he added, just really really good returns. More candid still, he chastised those in his industry who seek to profit at the intersection of fear and greed. Kleiner Perkins, the lofty Silicon Valley VC, which Waite described as "overrated," announced Thursday a new $200 million pandemic and bio defense fund.

Dr. Bruce Montgomery, whose company Corus Pharma just pulled back from a long-planned IPO, said he never intended to go into business and didn't even know what CEO meant during his formative years treating the earliest AIDS patients at San Francisco General. Now, he said, his wife describes Corus as "his $35 million a year drug habit --- and there's some truth to that." The constant need of biotech companies for new capital to reach milestones to generate more capital to reach the next milestones is a scheme bordering on the "Ponzi," he added.

Paul Yager, a bioengineering prof and vice-chair of that department at UW (meaning, in his words, he goes to the weddings and funerals and tries not to shoot people), took out his cellphone and noted the computing power millions of people carry with them on a daily basis. If that compact, portable suite of capabilities -- sending and receiving data and images, mechanical actuators -- could be combined with medical diagnostics, it would represent a huge new way to monitor health and patient information.

Yager should know. He's leading a team that won a $15.4 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health Grant to build a durable, point-of-care diagnostic system for the developing world. At one time they were calling the device the "DxBox."

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Tricia Duryee
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Benjamin J. Romano
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