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December 6, 2007

Global venture capital investments are up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:21 AM

A study released late Tuesday says global venture capital investments this year are on pace to record the highest annual total since 2001, according to Dow Jones VentureOne and Ernst & Young.

This year, investment is expected to top $40 billion at the close of the fourth quarter while the number of deals should reach about 3,884, or similar to levels in 2003.

Driving this growth are investments in a broader range of sectors and geographic areas. The hot areas are cleantech and medical devices, and the two geographic regions of increasing importance are Beijing and Bangalore.

Also driving some of this growth is an increase in exits for VCs, which allow them to get some of their money back.

Here's a chart depicting the number of venture-backed IPOs:


The U.S. is the worldwide leader in cleantech investments:


The report also offered a prediction for 2008. Pending an economic downturn in the U.S. or the world, investing will likely continue to be robust. In addition, large multinational corporations are expected to increase their investments, and new geographies in Asia and growth in health care and cleantech innovations in energy and water will drive further growth.

November 7, 2007

Potential rival to Enbrel on the horizon

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:18 PM

An experimental arthritis therapy known as golimumab showed promising results in a late-stage clinical study for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis, Johnson & Johnson unit Centocor and Schering-Plough said Wednesday. The data signals the potential appearance of a new rival to Enbrel, the best-selling treatment developed in Seattle by Immunex and now sold by Amgen.

The compound is designed to be administered less frequently than Enbrel and Abbott Laboratories' Humira (one injection a month, instead of one a week for Enbrel and one every two weeks for Humira). The therapy constitutes an "incremental improvement" over Enbrel and other similar drugs, said Dr. Philip Mease, chief of the Swedish Medical Center's Division of Rheumathology Research in Seattle. Dr. Mease served as an investigator in the trial.

November 5, 2007

Pro-Provenge group rides the bus

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:48 PM

After placing an ad in the Washington Post and staging rallies in front of the Capitol and the FDA's headquarters, activists angry at the agency's decision to withhold approval for the prostate cancer drug Provenge have found a new way to voice their discontent.

Starting today, 25 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit buses will carry an ad headlined "Provenge Confidential." The month-long campaign, styled as a poster for a film noir, is sponsored by CareToLive, a group that has sued the FDA for allegedly conspiring against the prostate cancer drug, developed by Seattle-based Dendreon. CareToLive is composed of patient activists as well as investors caught on the wrong side of Dendreon shares' roller-coaster ride.

The ads make reference to "Machiavellian power grabs" and "undisclosed conflicts of interest" that supposedly led the FDA to request more data from Dendreon instead of approving it last May. An agency advisory panel had voted in favor of the drug.

The ads look like this:


Other investors blame the company instead, claiming it didn't communicate Provenge's real chances of getting approved. The Securities and Exchange Commission has started an informal inquiry on the issue.

November 2, 2007

Life Sciences Discovery Fund money draws 75 applications

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 6:42 PM

Tobacco money has a lot of friends.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund -- an institution charged by the state to distribute the funds from the tobacco settlement -- said today that 75 Washington research programs are bidding for grants.

Applicants include hospitals, universities and research institutions, as well as collaborations between companies and non-profits.

Proposals include vaccines, preventive medicine, surgical robotics and treatments for various diseases, the fund said in a statement.

The LSDF will distribute between $18 million and $20 million among the programs selected.

October 31, 2007

Mystery Gorilla strikes again at ZymoGenetics

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:29 PM

Forget the intricacies of molecular biology -- the most elusive mystery to haunt Seattle's largest independent biotech company is the true identity of the gorilla that has appeared every Halloween afternoon for at least 15 years.

On Wednesday, the gorilla struck again, wading through the company's fancy Eastlake headquarters and aggressively pushing candy at the employees, undeterred by the flurry of activity surrounding the company's quarterly earnings call.

The unidentified person, about 5' 7", wears a full-body gorilla costume and hunches over like an ape, and is described as very agile and strong.

In all these years, nobody has figured out who it is, says ZymoGenetics spokeswoman Susan Specht. "All theories have come to nothing," she said.

One thing is well known, though: the gorilla doesn't take no for an answer. "I didn't really want candy four years ago, then I quickly learned through sign language that I had to have candy," said Specht.

October 30, 2007

Nastech slips on Wall Street

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:24 PM

Nastech Pharmaceuticals had a rough time in the market Tuesday in the wake of its most recent quarterly earnings report.

Shares fell 13.27 percent to $12.88 as the Bothell firm - which specializes in delivering therapies through its proprietary nasal spray technology - saw its quarterly loss more than double to $16.4 million.

Profits are not as meaningful in early-stage biomedical companies such as Nastech, which derive most of their income from research partnerships and investors, as they are in other, commercial-stage companies. But the sudden drop in the company's numbers seems to have spooked some shareholders.

The loss, the company said in an earnings statement Monday, came as lower revenue coincided with higher research expenditures and an expanded payroll.

October 9, 2007

Nobel Prize for Medicine likely to stir some debate.

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 10:22 AM

This year's Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three scientists who figured out how to target gene mutations in mice by using embryonic stem cells. Those three elements - gene therapy, embryonic stem cells, and the use of animals in laboratory experiments - are among the most controversial topics in research today.

The laureates were Mario Carpecchi, of the University of Utah; Martin Evans, of Cardiff University, in Wales; and Oliver Smithies, of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Their discoveries led to the creation of a "knockout mouse", so called because individual genes could be knocked out to determine their function. "Such gene 'knockout' experiments have elucidated the roles of numerous genes in embyronic development, adult physiology, aging and disease," said a Nobel Foundation press release.

The award is likely to stir some debate among scientists and observers. Gene therapy testing in humans has so far failed to produce an effective therapy and has caused the death of at least one person, 19-year old Jesse Gelsinger, who died at a University of Pennsylvania trial in 1999. An Illinois woman, Jolee Mohr, died in July during a gene therapy clinical trial sponsored by Seattle-based Targeted Genetics, but whether the experimental drug contributed or not to the death is still to be determined (the company, and many gene therapy experts, believe it did not.) It may be a coincidence, but Targeted Genetics - which designs therapies based on targeted gene mutation or replacement - has seen its stock rise 7.29 percent to $2.06 in the wake of the Nobel announcement.

The use of human embryonic stem cells, which can become any type of cell, they sit in the midst of a heated political debate in the U.S., where the government currently opposes the use of federal funds in any research that could harm human embryos.

As for mice, many oppose the use of the little rodents in research. But the Nobel emboldened those who support experimenting on mice.
"Now would be a good time for animal rights leaders to step away from their opposition to animal studies and demonstrate support for humane and responsible research that benefits both people and animals," said Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, an organization that supports biomedical research, in a statement.

September 28, 2007

National Academy of Engineering... Check!

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 2:34 PM

On Sunday, local science star Leroy Hood will get a rare feather on his cap: he will be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering - becoming one of seven people who belong to at least three of the National Academies.

Hood, who heads the Institute for Systems Biology on the north side of Lake Union, is also a member of the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Hood gained fame in the field of biotech by helping invent the automated gene sequencer and other tools used in genetics. In 2000 he co-founded the ISB in Seattle, where computing science mixes with biology to seek new knowledge related to health care.

But Hood still needs to be invited to the National Research Council to complete his collection of all four national academies.

September 18, 2007

Gates Foundation executive is knighted

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:59 PM

Dr. Tadataka "Tachi" Yamada, president of the global health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, today can add knighthood to his list of achievements.


Tachi Yamada joined the Gates Foundation in 2006.

Yamada received the honor for his work at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he was head of research and development from 2000 to 2006. During that time he helped make GSK into an R&D powerhouse, the U.K.'s most innovative company and the commercial leader in researching diseases of the developing world, the U.K. government said in a press release. Yamada earned a B.A. in history from Stanford University, his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine.

The official title "honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)" is given by the Queen. Foreign citizens are recognized for important contributions to relations between their country and Britain, but only U.K. citizens with knighthood get the title of Sir or Dame. Yamada is an American citizen.

"I am delighted and humbled to receive this great honor," he said in a statement. "The U.K. is at the forefront of scientific innovation, particularly in discovering new medicines and improving global health. It has been my privilege to work with extraordinary British colleagues throughout my career in academia, in industry, and now in the fight against health disparities throughout the world."

Yamada joins a list of American recipients that includes former Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan; Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Norman Schwartzkopf; actor Bob Hope; composer/conductor Andre Previn; director Steven Spielberg and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who was given the honor in 2005.

September 12, 2007

UW reports increase in tech licensing

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:18 PM

Those Huskies are seeing more and more of their tech innovations fuel start-ups, according to the University of Washington's technology transfer office.

Licensing agreements and options grew to 198 in 2007 from 153 the previous year, or 29 percent, UW TechTransfer said in a statement Wednesday.

Some 11 companies were spawned from UW technology, one more than last year. Many of them were in the health sciences and energy technology fields.

The startups include EnerG2, which seeks to build super-efficient energy cells for use in hybrid vehicles using nano-materials. Another is CorazonX, which is developing technology to detect coronary artery disease.

September 4, 2007

Dr. Venter's revenge

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 1:53 PM

In the race to decode the human genome, superstar biotech entrepreneur J. Craig Venter saw his thunder stolen by a rival, government-funded effort. But he may have ended up with the last laugh.

The Rockville, Md.-based institute that bears his name and collaborators at other research centers published today in a peer-reviewed journal the first "diploid" genome -- that is, with information from the two sets of chromosomes, one inherited from each parent. That will permit comparing genetic differences between individuals. The genome is Dr. Venter's own.

The detail and breadth of the study surpasses that of previously published genomes, which included composite data from many individuals, says a New York Times story. This approach could become "the gold standard for many years," the story said.

The study shows "five to seven times" more genetic variation between humans than in the previous genome analysis, Venter's institute said in a satement.

This method could further the push towards personalized medicine. But that would require collecting genetic information from millions of individuals, a step that raises privacy concerns. In an interview with Technology Review, Venter encourages people to make their genetic information publicly available.

August 29, 2007

Paul Allen's new brain trust

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:12 PM

Now that the Allen Institute for Brain Science has created a detailed map of the brain, it has been busy mapping its own future.

The institute this week named a new scientific advisory board to help define and advance its scientific agenda. The board members are David Anderson and Christof Koch from CalTech, Thomas Daniel and Phyllis Wise from UW, Catherine Dulac from Harvard, Steven Paul of Lilly Research Labs, Michael Stryker of UC San Francisco, Joseph S. Takahashi from Northwestern University and Marc Tessier-Lavigne from Genentech.


Lab assistants help unlock the mysteries of the mouse brain, genetically similar to the human brain.

Allen provided a $100 million donation of seed money to fund the institute, and it has used $40 million to build the Allen Brain Atlas. Now the institute needs more funding to take on the next challenge. That money could come from federal grants, foundations and other sources, as well as from Allen himself. But the institute is intended to run as a business, says Chief Operating Officer Elaine Jones, so it's looking at new models for future investments in projects that could later be commercialized.

August 28, 2007

Rival of ZymoGenetics drug gets FDA's OK

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 1:32 PM

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesdayapproved Israeli biotech Omrix's human thrombin product Evithrom for surgical use. It is the first approval of a human thrombin product since 1954, the agency said.

Evithrom, derived from human plasma, is designed to control bleeding during surgery.

It competes directly with Seattle biotech ZymoGenetics' genetically-engineered thrombin. The Zymo drug's launch -- originally scheduled for October -- last week was delayed by three months as the FDA required more time to review information about manufacturing operations. rThrombin, as the local company's recombinant thrombin is known, will be the first product to come out of ZymoGenetics' pipeline since it became a public company.

ZymoGenetics stock closed 3.45 percent lower at $11.77. In a conference call following the FDA's decision to delay rThrombin's approval, company executives maintained that they were confident that their product would dominate the thrombin market despite being beaten to the street by its rival by several months. rThrombin would also compete with King Pharmaceuticals' bovine thrombin product, which is used in about 1 million surgeries annually, according to Bloomberg.

Zymogenetics says that recombinant thrombin is less risky and a better platform to provide a more consistent supply than human or bovine-derived thrombin.

King Pharmaceuticals corporate affairs executive vice president James Greene said his company is able to manufacture twice as much thrombin as is currently consumed in the market. He also said that the bovine thrombin product, which has been used in 11 million procedures in over 12 years, is safe and "very well understood" by physicians.

UPDATE: McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Paul Latta says that recombinant thrombin "is a compelling marketing story."

"There is no fear associated with viruses, or fear of the bloodbank in general," unlike products derived from human blood, he said. Bovine-derived products raise concerns about anti-bodies, he said.

Nevertheless, Omrix will have "a first mover advantage, which will be a challenge," Latta said. But he dismissed the fact that ZymoGenetics' stock downturn has much to do with the FDA announcement, as the stock market saw a general downturn. "I'm sure it was a factor, but it probably wasn't the prime factor," he said.

August 21, 2007

Is Big Pharma money influencing Medicaid decisions?

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:33 PM

Should big drug companies be allowed to make payments to doctors who help select products used in Medicaid programs?

This Associated Press story says that a doctor and a pharmacist sitting on Minnesota advisory panel got "big checks" from Big Pharma, although the individuals deny that the money had any effect on their recommendations.

The information, obtained by the AP under a Minnesota law that requires pharmaceutical businesses to report payments to doctors, raises questions about undue influence on how Medicaid's $28 billion budget is spent. Most of the payments to doctors go unnoticed, as only Vermont and Maine have similar reporting requirements, the story said.

August 20, 2007

120 knocks on the door for state biotech fund

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 10:06 AM

The race for another round of tobacco money is on.

Some 120 biotech research teams have sent letters of intent to apply for grants from the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which will disburse $18 million to $20 million from Washington state's tobacco settlement.

The full proposals are due October 24, the agency said in a statement.

The agency, which seeks to foster health care-related research in Washington state, will select a subset of applicants in January for a second round of review that will include interviews. Winners, selected from interviewed applicants, will be announced in April.

August 13, 2007

Questioning the ethics in Targeted Genetics clinical trial

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 10:00 AM

The tragic death of 36-year-old Illinois woman Jolee Mohr during a Targeted Genetics clinical trial has raised a dust-up over whether the enrollment of patients in such experiments is being handled ethically.

A Washington Post story published last week says there were "failures in the safety net that is supposed to protect people from the risks of medical experimentation."

The Post report said rules were breached when when Jolee Mohr's own doctor -- an investigator in the Targeted Genetics clinical trial -- prompted her to enroll in the experiment. If a patient's own doctor is involved in the research, "someone else is supposed to make the proposal," the story says. Another breach occurred when Mohr didn't take consent forms home before signing them, according to experts cited by the newspaper.

But a story today in The Chronicle of Higher Education says that "neither standard mentioned in the Post article was a true rule in clinical research."

Bioethicists cited in the story agreed with the Post in that it would be "good practice" not to allow treating doctors who are also researchers to enroll their own patients in their experimental studies. But University of Pennsylvania medical ethics professor Jonathan Moreno said such enrollments were "quite common."

In the story, a Northwestern University researcher involved in the Targeted Genetics trial said that patients who participate "always have an opportunity" to take the consent form home and read it, "but by no means do we [require[ people to come in and then go home and then come back again."

Mohr's death -- which came shortly after the injection of a second dose of Targeted Genetics' experimental arthritis drug -- cast a grim light on gene therapy, a field that is considered promising but has so far yielded little result. It also echoed another death associated with gene therapy -- the 1999 demise of Jesse Gelsinger, a patient at a University of Pennsylvania experiment.

Gene therapy seeks to cure disease by transforming certain genes. But the adenovirus vector chosen to replace some of Gelsinger's defective genes with new ones triggered a massive reaction that killed him.

The therapy Mohr was getting used a different kind of vector than in the Gelsinger trial -- an adeno-associated virus -- that many experts thought safe. The cause of death hasn't been determined yet.

August 2, 2007

Should the FDA relax approval standards for biotech therapies?

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:49 PM

Have biotech advances in cancer therapies evolved beyond the regulators' ability to handle them quickly?

Patients and biotech companies are simmering in frustration at the U.S. Food Administration's rejection of drugs they consider promising. A Wall Street Journal story published Thursday says these groups would like the FDA to allow products that fail to achieve their stated target, but are later discovered to be effective in certain groups among the people tested. That flexibility could save lives of terminally ill patients, they say.

The FDA argues that it's better to be safe than sorry, and that selecting successful sub-groups after the fact is bad science.

Some patient groups are taking an openly confrontational approach. We wrote Tuesday that CareToLive, a group representing prostate-cancer patients, is suing the FDA for rebuffing Provenge, Seattle-based Dendreon's lead therapy. The patient advocates say the refusal is the result of political rivalries within the agency, and is foiling some patients' last hope.

The push by such advocates, however, coincides with a nationwide call for more strict FDA supervision in the wake of drug safety scandals.

Federal court thwarts D.C. pharmaceutical price controls

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 3:37 PM

A federal court thwarted the District of Columbia's efforts to put a lid on medicine prices on constitutional grounds -- earning the applause of the biotech industry.

The United States Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit upheld a lower court's ruling that found D.C.'s Prescription Drug Excessive Pricing Act of 2005 breached the goals established by patent laws.

The law sought to keep drugs from costing more than 30 percent above what they cost in other developed countries. It also required companies to reveal their invention costs to the authorities.

Supporters said the measure was necessary to counter skyrocketing pharmaceutical costs. Opponents argued that the law would stifle innovation.

The ruling marks a victory for the biotech industry, currently assailed by a legislative effort to pave the way for generics of genetically-engineered therapies.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization commended the court for its decision.
"This law, like other price control measures, would not have had the intended effect of increasing patient access to drugs," said BIO president Jim Greenwood in a statement.

July 25, 2007

Targeted Genetics shares tumble on stopped clinical trial

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 11:35 AM

Targeted Genetics stock fell more than 20 percent today after the company interrupted clinical testing of its lead arthritis drug because of a patient's illness.

As of 2:24 pm Eastern time, the Seattle-based company's shares traded at $2.07, down 56 cents or 21.29 percent.

The company said late Tuesday that it had stopped trials of its tgAAC94 therapy after a patient became seriously ill. It's unclear whether the adverse effects are related to the drug.

July 24, 2007

Saving Man's best friend from blindness

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:12 PM

Healionics, a Redmond medical materials start-up, wants to put its technology at the service of canines prone to glaucoma.

Through a partnership with a veterinary biomaterials maker from Scottsdale, Ariz., Healionics will focus on creating devices that can be implanted in dogs' eyes, the company said Tuesday. Healionics specializes in implant materials that are not rejected by the body.

The announcement comes as Americans spend more than ever in care for their pets. The New York Times said Sunday:

Nationally, spending on veterinary care is expected to reach $9.8 billion in 2007, up from $7.2 billion five years ago, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. A survey released by the group last month found that 47 percent of dog owners say their pet sleeps in a family member's bed.

July 19, 2007

Techs vs. biotechs on patent reform

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 1:42 PM

Both the computer industry and the biotechnology industry want new laws that would streamline the patenting process and help spur innovation. But what's good for the one is not good for the other, it seems.

The computer industry pushed hard for the major overhaul the House Judiciary Committee passed Wednesday, which limits damages during patent infringement lawsuits.

The Coalition for Patent Fairness, which represents technology companies ranging from Microsoft to Apple, says the current system allows "baseless" patent claims that can cost millions in legal bills "and can coerce large settlements that cost upwards of $100 million," deterring innovation.

Biotech companies oppose these damage limitations, as they live in perpetual fear of generic drug makers, which can cheaply copy drugs that take decades to develop and billions of dollars to market.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which groups most biotech companies, said in a statement that "the bill, as it currently stands, threatens continued biotech innovation."

A Congressional Research Service report from last year goes into the details of how patent reform would affect the different industries. The full House now has to consider the matter, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is debating similar legislation, according to this AP story.

July 17, 2007

Biotechs cheer FDA funding proposal

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:25 PM

A proposed boost in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration funding is making biotech companies smile -- as the money could help speed up the grueling approval process for new treatments and devices.

On Tuesday, a Senate appropriations subcommittee voted to give the FDA a $1.75 billion budget -- a $186 million increase.. That "represents the most significant increase in the FDA's budget in recent memory," said Jim Greenwood, president of the Biotechnology Industry Association.

He said:

"This will greatly enhance the ability of biotechnology pioneers to get life-enhancing and life-saving therapies out of research labs and into the hands of patients as quickly as possible."

The FDA has been under increased pressure to step up its vigilance over the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry in the wake of problems with approved drugs such as Merck's Vioxx arthritis treatment. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have recently approved bills strengthening the agency's power.

July 16, 2007

Debate on biotech drug generics lies ahead

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 10:57 AM

The House of Representatives voted last week to strengthen the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's rule over drug companies, but the fate of biotech drug generics is yet to be written, according to this Wall Street Journal story.

The House bill must be reconciled with a measure recently passed by the Senate, opening the way to follow-on biologics, as identical copies of biotech drugs are known. Biotech companies -- including many local firms -- dread their coming.

The current Senate bill would allow the FDA to waive clinical trials for generic versions of already approved drugs, something that could eliminate most of the incentive to develop costly therapies and pose a safety risk, opponents say. Supporters say generics could lower health care costs and increase access to life-saving medicines.

"A compromise version of the two measures is expected to be completed in the next few months," the Journal story says.

July 10, 2007

MediQuest Therapeutics Prepares To Seek FDA's Nod

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 6:01 PM

Pharmaceutical start-up MediQuest Therapeutics, which specializes on topical treatments, is getting ready to seek regulatory approval of its first commercial treatment.

In late June, the privately held Bothell firm concluded its final clinical study of a therapy to treat Raynaud's disease, a disorder that makes the body's extremities overreact to cold temperatures.

MediQuest expects to file an application for the new treatment with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "sometime before the end of the year," says Chief Executive Frederick Dechow. A new round of financing to underwrite the company's effort lies in the "not too distant future," he added.

The market for Raynaud's disease treaments could be in excess of $800 million a year, Dechow said. A successful venture round -- and product launch -- could mean up to 100 additional jobs, Dechow said. The company currently has 28 employees.

Northwest Biotherapeutics gets Swiss jolt

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 5:40 PM

It seems Northwest Biotherapeutics, a local biotech once derided by U.S. capital markets, is benefitting from the Alpine climate.

Shortly after its debut at London Stock Exchange's stock market for small caps, the company said that Swiss regulatory authorities approved the use of its brain cancer therapeutic vaccine.

The announcement, sent the stock into a wild ride Monday, closing 36 percent higher in London's Alternative Investment Market. The stock jumped even higher on Tuesday --- to an unbelievable 280 pence, up 104 percent.

Not bad for a Bothell-based company that was once kicked out of Nasdaq for running out of cash.

Chief Executive Alton Boynton said:

"Switzerland is an attractive place to begin commercialization, due to its highly respected regulatory oversight, and its growing experience with cellular therapies. Switzerland is also increasingly noted for medical tourism, and is easily accessible for many medical tourists."

July 3, 2007

Cell Therapeutics' Italian job

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:46 PM

Cell Therapeutics executives will do a whirlwind tour of Milan this Friday -- not precisely to attend the widely acclaimed mise-en-scene of Leonard Bernstein's opera "Candide" at La Scala, but to meet with their Italian constituency.

The executives will brief some 30 shareholders on the company's activities, the company said Tuesday. Executives will also meet with media during their visit.

Despite being based in Seattle, Cell Therapeutics' has a strong Lombard connection: The company's research is based in the Milanese suburb of Bresso since it acquired local biotech Novuspharma in 2003.

Most of Cell Therapeutics' stockholders are based in Italy -- which makes the outreach important, as the company has had trouble in the past to meet quorum requirements for shareholder events.

Italian-speaking shareholders can check the company's Web site in Dante's language.

Dendreon gets boost from scientific journal

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 10:13 AM

Dendreon shares jumped nearly 14 percent to a high of $8.24 early Tuesday, boosted by a scientific article that cast positive light on its flagship anti-prostate cancer therapy, Provenge.

The stock's price and volume came down in later trading, but as of 1 p.m. Eastern time shares traded at $7.66, or 6 percent above Monday's close.

The article -- from a journal published by the American Association of Cancer Research -- says biotechnology therapies that spur the immune system to fight cancer help extend the survival of patients in clinical trials:

Evidence is emerging from several studies in which patient cohorts who first receive a cancer vaccine (as contrasted with control cohorts) benefit clinically from subsequent therapies.

Seattle-based Dendreon expected federal regulators to approve Provenge earlier in the year, but in May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested more data, sending the stock into a downward spin. The FDA's decision has generated controversy among investors and biotechnology activists.

The article is "sort of validation of the technology, which is good for everyone involved," said Dendreon spokeswoman Monique Greer.

This is the second time in less than 10 days that Dendreon gets a marketplace jolt. Last week, shares jumped 10 percent after an analyst said that the company was ripe for a lucrative foreign partnership.

July 2, 2007

ZymoGenetics' names new president

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 3:01 PM

ZymoGenetics, the area's largest independent biotech, named chief scientific officer Douglas Williams as its new president, the company said Monday.

Former president Bruce Carter will retain his role as chief executive and chairman of the board. Other executives were also promoted: James Johnson, chief financial officer and treasurer, has been named executive vice president, and Darren R. Hamby becomes senior vice president for human resources.

The changes come as ZymoGenetics "grows and gets bigger," Carter told The Seattle Times.

Carter will now "have the time to focus" on the commercialization of rThrombin, a product for surgical bleeding control expected to launch in October, and in the company's long-term strategy, he said.

June 28, 2007

Healionics leaves the nest

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:38 PM

Last March, Healionics' initial round of funding made it the first company to spinoff from the Ratner Biomedical Group, a local incubator. Now the company finally has its own pad.

On Thursday, Healionics, which specializes in producing bio-compatible materials for medical devices and implants, said it had acquired a research lab and new offices in Redmond. Its flagship technology -- known as STAR Material -- reduces the human body's rejection to medical implants, a news release said.

The new digs will enable Healionics to manufacture the material in quantity; the company is currently negotiating several partnership deals, the company says.

The deals will be announced soon, according to the release.

Koronis raises $20M in VC round

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 9:17 AM

Koronis Pharmaceuticals said this morning it received $20 million in venture financing from Pacific Horizon Ventures and the Asset Management Co.

The Redmond-based biotechnology company said it plans to use the money to conduct two clinical trials on the effectiveness of its leading product candidate, a novel anti-HIV treatment in humans. Koronis expects to conclude the trials in 2008.

The therapy, already determined to be safe in humans, has shown effectiveness in a lab setting during pre-clinical trials, the privately held company said.

It seeks to anihilate HIV infections by encouraging mutations that make the virus unfit to reproduce. The company said Tuesday that it was enrolling patients in the first trial.

June 27, 2007

Dendreon stock gets big jolt from partnership rumors

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 7:03 PM

Dendreon shares jumped 10 percent Tuesday in the wake of an analyst note that portrayed the Seattle biotech company as ripe for a lucrative partnership with Big Pharma.

Needham & Co.'s annual partnership report says that the number of partnerships in the biotech industry is poised to grow, according to Marketwatch. The report's authors estimate Dendreon is likely to seek a partner from outside the U.S. to help with the marketing and development of Provenge, its prostate cancer-fighting drug.

The report "triggered the rumor mill," says David Miller, an analyst at Seattle-based Biotech Stock Research. On Tuesday, Dendreon shares closed at $7.17, up 66 cents, or 10.14 percent.

Life Sciences Discovery Fund seeks grant proposals

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:28 PM

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund wants to give you some tobacco money -- provided you're an institution committed to advancing health research in the state.

The application process opens today, and candidates eager to share in the $20 million available for the grant competition can fill an application online, or request more information at the Web site. Letters of intent are due Aug. 8, with full proposals expected in October, the Fund said in a news release.

This is the Fund's second grant competition, and it targets universities, non-profit research institutions and hospitals, as well as public health departments. Private, for-profit corporations can participate joint proposals with non-profits.

The money will come from the state's tobacco settlement bonus payments, the first of which is scheduled for April. The awards will be announced on April 9.

The winners of the first grant competition, funded by private sponsors, will be announced in September.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund was established by the state to help spur biological research, economic growth, and health care improvement. It will receive $35 million a year from the tobacco settlement over 10 years.

Pacific Biometrics gets $610,000 contract

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 3:55 PM

An unspecified Big Pharma firm hired Pacific Biometrics to help test an arthritis therapy during late-stage clinical trials, the Seattle company said Wednesday.

The contract is worth an estimated $610,000, Pacific Biometrics said in a news release. The company expects to complete the testing in the third quarter.

Pacific Biometrics specializes in laboratory work and contract research during human clinical trials of biotech and pharmaceutical companies' therapies.

The contract "should have a meaningful impact on our fiscal 2008 financial results," Ron Helm, chief executive of Pacific Biometrics said in a statement.

June 26, 2007

Koronis begins enrolling patients for anti-HIV drug trial

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 12:39 PM

Koronis Pharmaceuticals said today it will begin testing its anti-HIV treatment in humans, after showing the drug's potential to wreak havoc with the killer human immunodeficiency virus in a lab setting.

While current approved treatments seek to inhibit HIV growth, the Redmond biotech's therapy aims to drive virus populations into extinction by spurring unfit mutations. The more degenerate an HIV strand becomes, the less likely it is to reproduce, says interim Chief Executive Donald Elmer.

Full extinction could occur "somewhere in the range of 40 or 50 days," Elmer says.

The clinical study will evaluate whether the product -- known as KP-1461-201 -- is safe and effective in patients who have become resistant to conventional HIV treatments. Up to 32 patients will receive two daily 1600mg doses of the therapy for 124 days.

Privately held Koronis expects to have preliminary results as early as the third quarter, but the drug still has many a hoop to jump through. If all clinical trials are successful and the Food and Drug Administration gives its blessing, the product could hit the market sometime in late 2010 or 2011, Elmer says.

Elmer also heads Pacific Horizon Ventures, which owns most of Koronis.

June 15, 2007

Breakthrough in plant replacement for oil

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:24 PM

The goal was simple: replace crude oil as the source for plastics, fuels and many other common chemicals with inexpensive, nonpolluting plant matter.

But breaking down glucose has proven especially complicated.

In this week's edition of the journal Science, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory now say they've discovered an effective way to convert nature's most abundant sugar to an alternative source for products typically made from petroleum.

"What we have done that no one else has been able to do is convert glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters," said Z. Conrad Zhang, a scientist with the PNNL-based Institute for Interfacial Catalysis, who led the research.

Until now the problem has been low yields of commercially viable products and too many byproducts, he said.

Zhang and his colleagues said they were able to produce HMF yields of more than 70 percent from glucose and nearly 90 percent from fructose while leaving only traces of acid impurities.

April 6, 2007

Researchers flock to Life Sciences Fund grants

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:40 AM

From biotech reporter Kirsten Orsini-Meinhard:

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund has received letters of intent from about 100 Washington researchers who will apply for a shot at about $6 million in private grant money.

Researchers, from 26 different organizations, will have to submit a detailed plan on how they would use the grant money to an outside panel of judges. Judges will make recommendations in September on the award recipients. The Board of Trustees of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund will make the ultimate decision.

Proposed projects will focus on diseases ranging from cancer to asthma and tuberculosis. This is the Life Sciences Discovery Fund's first grant competition and was open to non-profit research and health care organizations in Washington. For-profit companies could partner with non-profits if they wanted to participate.

The state-run agency plans to award grants twice a year in the future, using the $350 million in tobacco settlement bonus money that was the reason for its inception by the state legislature in 2005.

Because the first round of settlement payments won't arrive until next year, the $6 million in available grant money for this competition is expected to come from five different donors -- " the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Amgen, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Microsoft and Regence BlueShield.

March 22, 2007

Perkins Coie awards stem cell research grant

Posted by Kristi Heim at 5:04 PM

Seattle law firm Perkins Coie has given a University of Washington researcher a $20,000 grant for stem cell research.

The award, unusual coming from a law firm, is the first of its kind for Perkins Coie and part of a five-year commitment to support research at the UW Medical School's South Lake Union campus.

The annual $20,000 grants are designed as seed money to help incubate research that could form the basis for larger programs attracting funding from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, said Jim Lisbakken, chair of the firm's Life Sciences Practice.

The UW originally approached Perkins Coie to fund building of its South Lake Union campus.

"Rather than funding buildings of bricks and mortar, we decided it would be much more personal and of greater interest to see our dollars at work on a particular project," Lisbakken said.

The UW medical school ranks first among all public medical schools and second among all U.S. medical schools in federal research funding. But some projects never get off the ground because they don't have enough "proof of concept" data at an early stage to apply for NIH funding.

UW researcher Morayma Reyes received the first Perkins Coie grant for work to isolate and identify stem cells to regenerate heart tissue.

Perkins Coie, which has 15 offices throughout the United States and in China, has represented biotech clients such as Immunex, ZymoGenetics and ICOS, and handled technology license agreements with the University of Washington.

December 4, 2006

Redmond spinoff to go public

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:12 PM

Looks like Redmond is be getting a new publicly traded company. Medical device maker Medtronic says it's going to spin off its Redmond division into an independent company that carries the division's former name, Physio-Control.

Physio-Control, which makes heart defribrillators, will have about 1,200 employees -- half of them based in Redmond -- and annual sales of about $450 million.

October 19, 2006

Local company joins expanding BioIT Alliance

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:59 PM

A cross-industry group addressing data-management problems in biotechnology, the BioIT Alliance, is embarking on a second pilot project, and Seattle bioinformatics company Geospiza is joining the effort.

Microsoft, which launched the alliance with The Scripps Research Institute and several biotech and software companies in April, said today a second proof-of-concept project is under way.

The Biomarkers Project aims to "simplify the process for identifying and validating genomic biomarkers -- the characteristics that indicate the presence of a disease or the likely efficacy of a drug." More details are in this news release.

Here's our coverage of the alliance, and Microsoft's broader healthcare efforts, from April.

Another Seattle bioinformatics company, VizX Labs, is also a member of the Alliance.

July 19, 2006

A new method to fight HIV?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:37 PM

The Gates Foundation said today it is funding a "highly collaborative" network of 16 research teams around the world to tackle challenges of designing a vaccine to protect against HIV, hoping the global cooperation and $287 million in new funding will accelerate development.

Most of the research so far has been done by small teams working independently, an approach that has resulted in frustratingly slow progress, said Dr. Jose Esparza, senior advisor on HIV vaccines at the Gates Foundation. Esparza said he thinks breakthroughs can be achieved by "working together in new ways."

Among the 165 investigators in 19 countries who will tackle the vaccine design problem is Leo Stamatatos of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, a lead investigator on the Gates grant who uses computational biology to create new designs. He has enlisted the help of University of Washington and individuals around the world to donate computing power to the project when their computers are idle.

July 12, 2006

ZymoGenetics tests IL-21 as combo with Rituxan

Posted by Luke Timmerman at 3:51 PM

ZymoGenetics said today it has started a clinical trial of Interleukin-21 along with Rituxan, as a combination therapy against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Combination cancer drugs are somewhat in vogue as a way companies can show the FDA their treatments offer an edge in efficacy. If it works, the combination is bound to give health insurers headaches -- Rituxan alone typically costs more than $14,000 per patient in a usual four-week course, according to Mosby's Drug Consult. Adding another complex, genetically engineered protein like IL-21 would surely dial up the price.

For its part, ZymoGenetics is still a long way from delivering IL-21 to the market, much less driving a hard bargain with insurers over price. It is starting the early-stage trial based on some intriguing results it saw in mice.

The company said in December at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting that 70 percent of mice on the Interleukin-21 and Rituxan combo survived at least three months with aggressive lymphoma, compared to 10 percent of mice on the same dose of Rituxan alone.

ZymoGenetics thinks that the combination might work because IL-21's mechanism of action is complementary to Rituxan's. IL-21 is an engineered protein that stimulates two types of immune system cells, Killer T cells, and Natural Killer cells. It is believed those cells could essentially pile on, battering tumors while Rituxan does its job of latching onto the tumor cells, and recruiting other immune system cells to attack.

ZymoGenetics' chief scientific officer Doug Williams said the company is focused on how IL-21's mechanism of action complements Rituxan, not how the U.S. health system might pay for such a mix. "If you provide a marginal benefit, you might get some pushback (from insurers)," Williams said. "But if you could bring considerable improvement, then you've got an argument that can be made to justify whatever the price may be."

If the combo doesn't work, ZymoGenetics could keep trying IL-21 as a single agent in other diseases, like kidney cancer and melanoma, where trials already are underway. Or, Williams said, it could test IL-21 in some other combination with Nexavar or Sutent, two new drugs for kidney cancer.

Then again, those drugs aren't cheap either, at $7,800 for a 28-day supply of Sutent, and $5,400 for a 30-day supply of Nexavar, according to Mosby's.

Of course, if IL-21 can extend lives without any extra help, ZymoGenetics and insurers would both be happier.

June 12, 2006

IPO trivia

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:34 PM

From Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

Local venture capitalists help launch a lot of companies, but generally they don't wind up holding the big stakes when those companies go public. Other venture firms, with deeper pockets, usually step into that role by investing in later-stage financings.

An exception is the proposed initial public offering filed this month by Seattle biotech Trubion. Two VC funds with partners based here -- Frazier and Arch -- are the leading shareholders (with about 19 and 18 percent, respectively).

Here's the trivia question: When was the last time two local funds were the top shareholders in a local IPO?

According to our search of SEC filings, you've got to look back at least five and a half years.

Seattle Genetics' IPO, filed in late 2000, had Kirkland-based OVP, Bill Gates' Cascade Investments and Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures as biggest shareholders, with a collective 38 percent.

Quibblers may point out that Cascade and Vulcan aren't conventional VC funds. They're welcome to search even further back to find a satisfactory answer; please let us know.

New use for video iPod

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:28 PM

Here's a new use for video iPods sure to rival the latest music video: technicians can refresh their training in ultrasound procedures by viewing "compelling, brief and instructionally rich" refresher courses on their iPods.

Seattle-based SonoSite, which makes handheld systems for taking ultrasound exams, says it started the new intiative to use iPods for training based on the rising cost of health care and ever greater demands for doctors to become more efficient.

Now technicians can get instruction on the spot by viewing one- to five-minute tutorials using the cool tool that fits right into a lab coat pocket. SonoSite calls it "hand-carried education." So where is that appendix located again?

May 24, 2006

Northstar shares turn south

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 1:49 PM

From Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

Northstar Neuroscience, which went public with a bang in early May, slid sharply today to close below its offering price for the first time.

With demand evidently strong, the Seattle medical device company priced its offering May 5 at $15, a dollar above its $12 to $14 expected range, and sold 1.1 million more shares than originally planned. The stock traded up nearly 10 percent its first day, and has been as high as $17.75.

But Wednesday, it dropped 13 percent, or $2.02, closing at $13.48.

Qualifying as a so-called 'broken IPO' is never good. On the other hand, Northstar held up better than Internet phone company Vonage, which began trading today and promptly fell more than 12 percent below its offering price.

May 11, 2006

Cell Therapeutics still under scrutiny

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 2:29 PM

A report from Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

Cell Therapeutics shed a little more light today on the investigation into its business practices by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In its quarterly SEC filing, the company reports it is providing documents and holding periodic meetings with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and still "cannot predict whether [the government] will bring formal criminal enforcement proceedings."

The investigation has been under way since last year, and centers on the company's promotional practices relating to Trisenox, a drug approved for one cancer but used by doctors "largely for uses not approved by the FDA," according to the company. In March, Cell Therapeutics for the first time disclosed that the investigation stemmed from a whistleblower lawsuit, also called a "qui tam' suit, filed under seal by a private person on behalf of the government.

Today's filing adds that "based on information currently available to the company, we believe that the [U.S. Attorney] may recommend to the Department of Justice that the government intervene in the qui tam action, as is its right, and assume the conduct of this lawsuit."

It continues: "One of the primary claims that might be pursued would be that CTI violated the Federal False Claims Act by receiving reimbursement from Medicare for improper off-label use of Trisenox or otherwise ineligible sales of Trisenox."

The company says it's not clear what portion of its Trisenox sales might be challenged under this legal theory, so it can't estimate any potential damages. But it notes that under the False Claims Act, "damages can be trebled and separate fines imposed for each violation."

Trisenox brought the company sales of about $40 million from January 2004 through July 2005, when it sold the drug rights to another company.

Cell Therapeutics still under scrutiny

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 2:29 PM

A report from Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

Cell Therapeutics shed a little more light today on the investigation into its business practices by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In its quarterly SEC filing, the company reports it is providing documents and holding periodic meetings with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and still "cannot predict whether [the government] will bring formal criminal enforcement proceedings."

The investigation has been under way since last year, and centers on the company's promotional practices relating to Trisenox, a drug approved for one cancer but used by doctors "largely for uses not approved by the FDA," according to the company. In March, Cell Therapeutics for the first time disclosed that the investigation stemmed from a whistleblower lawsuit, also called a "qui tam' suit, filed under seal by a private person on behalf of the government.

Today's filing adds that "based on information currently available to the company, we believe that the [U.S. Attorney] may recommend to the Department of Justice that the government intervene in the qui tam action, as is its right, and assume the conduct of this lawsuit."

It continues: "One of the primary claims that might be pursued would be that CTI violated the Federal False Claims Act by receiving reimbursement from Medicare for improper off-label use of Trisenox or otherwise ineligible sales of Trisenox."

The company says it's not clear what portion of its Trisenox sales might be challenged under this legal theory, so it can't estimate any potential damages. But it notes that under the False Claims Act, "damages can be trebled and separate fines imposed for each violation."

Trisenox brought the company sales of about $40 million from January 2004 through July 2005, when it sold the drug rights to another company.

April 12, 2006

Venture round for Bothell drug sample company

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:45 AM

MedManage Systems, a Bothell company that helps drug companies get sample products in front of prescribing physicians, has raised $10.75 million in venture funding, it said today.

The capital will help MedManage expand the market for its online drug sampling tools, which help drug companies target and recruit physicians and allow them to easily order samples.

The funding round was led by QuestMark Partners, with participation from existing investors Versant Ventures, Lilly Ventures and Prism Venture Partners.

Cell biologist bats .341 with 25 home runs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:47 AM

OK, not really. But a trade group in Illinois has issued trading cards showcasing the state's top scientists.

"Collect 'em now and get an autograph," Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce, said at the biotech industry's biggest convention, according to this Chicago Tribune article (registration required). "They'll be worth thousands once they win a Nobel!"

It's an innovative, if gimmicky, effort in the ongoing competition among the states to woo the life sciences industry. Traditional enticements include tax incentives and cash for research, like the $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund here in Washington, or giveaways of land and other resources in other states.

A new report issued at the convention, ending in Chicago today, details the incentives offered by all the states, though the Illinois trading cards aren't included.

The Tribune quoted scientist Peter Sutovsky, who's depicted on a card, asking, "How do you calculate a scientist's batting average?"

April 11, 2006

NeoRx postpones vote on $65 million financing

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:45 PM

NeoRx said today it had adjourned for two weeks the special meeting of shareholders meant to vote on a proposed $65 million infusion for the cash-strapped biotech company. As of this morning, the company said, shares represented in person or by proxy did not reach the quorum necessary for the meeting to do business.

Approximtely 16 million shares were voted, representing about 48 percent of the company's outstanding common stock. Approximately 17 million shares, or 50.1 percent of the common stock, is required to establish a quorum.

Of the shares voted, more than 90 percent were cast in favor of both proposals, which must be approved to complete the financing, the company said.

The proposed infusion would be led by major health-care investor MPM Capital, which will own 30 percent of the company's common stock when the deal is complete. Life-sciences merchant bank Bay City Capital, whose co-founder Fred Craves is a longtime NeoRx board member, also is participating, along with Deerfield Management, Abingworth and T. Rowe Price.

The new shares issued would nearly triple NeoRx's current float of 34.3 million shares, giving the latest investors majority control of the company.

April 10, 2006

Patent lifts Cell Therapeutics stock

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:14 PM

Shares of Seattle biotechnology company Cell Therapeutics closed up 10.6 percent Monday after it announced a new patent.

The company patented CT-45099, which it described as the first agent from a new class of anti-cancer compounds to reach animal testing. The compound is a small-molecule antitubulin and differs from other cancer drugs in its method of action against tumor cells, the company said.

Patented through its European subsidiary, the drug may be effective against cancers that develop resistance to other chemotherapies.

Cell Therapeutics was up 19 cents to close at $1.98 this afternoon on heavier-than-normal volume.

April 7, 2006

Dendreon reduces size of Provenge plant

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:31 PM

Dendreon said in a regulatory filing today that it was reducing the scope of its Provenge manufacturing plant under construction in Hanover, N.J.

The Seattle biotech company amended its construction agreement to "reduce the size of the New Jersey manufacturing facility from a 48 workstation facility to a 12 workstation facility with appropriate laboratory and support areas."

Company spokeswoman Monique Greer said the move was part of the company's efforts to shift resources to prepare for its regulatory application and commercialization of Provenge. The company expects to file for regulatory approval to market the prostate-cancer treatment later this year.

She said 12 clean rooms, where the treatment will be manufactured, "is absolutely sufficient to meet the demand that we expect on launch of Provenge."

Biotech Stock Research, a Seattle-based investor publication, said in an investor note today the decision raises concerns:

The worry is this could be another Enbrel, where developer Immunex had a big hit on their hands and ended up not realizing the true promise of it due to lack of manufacturing capacity. They eventually sold themselves to Amgen (AMGN) at far below what their ultimate value would have been if they calculated manufacturing capacity at something other than the bare minimum necessary for launch.

In those terms, we see this reduction in capacity as further proof the company is positioning itself to be sold relatively quickly after Provenge is approved.

Greer said BSR was "reading a lot more into it than there really is. It doesn't mean any change in the company's commitment to Provenge or the timelines."

Dendreon shares closed down 3 cents to $4.35 today.

Cialis improves sex life for men with spinal injury

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:44 AM

Men with spinal-cord injuries reported improvements in their sex lives after taking Cialis, Icos' erectile dysfunction drug. The Bothell company reported data from a study of 186 patients, sending its stock up $1.82, or 8.3 percent, to close at $23.76 today. The men treated with the drug reported successful sexual intercourse in 47.6 percent of attempts, compared to 10.8 percent at baseline.

March 29, 2006

Seattle Genetics details stock sale

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:47 AM

Seattle Genetics offered more details of its planned follow-on stock offering in a prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today.

The company plans to complete its offering of 7.3 million shares on Monday, April 3. It is also selling 1.1 million shares to Baker Brothers Investments in a private placement.

Seattle Genetics expected to net $38.4 million from public offering, after an 8 percent underwriting discount and offering expenses of $250,000. That estimate was based on Monday's closing price of $5.74 per share. The company's stock sank 56 cents or 9.8 percent to $5.18 in heavy trading today.

Seattle Genetics said it will use proceeds from the sale for clinical and pre-clinical development of its slate of monoclonal antibodies in development against cancer and other diseases. Other uses include manufacturing, potential acquisitions and general corporate purposes.

March 22, 2006

Hibernation company is wide awake

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:09 PM

At Invest Northwest, the biotech conference ending today in Seattle, company presentations -- especially those after lunch -- can lower the oxygen in a room and slow the audience's metabolism.

Those are some of the effects Seattle startup Ikaria seeks to provoke in trauma patients, whose chance of survival might increase if they needed less oxygen and their metabolism could be slowed. The company created a stir at Invest Northwest on Tuesday afternoon when it described the quick progress it has made in the last year.

Ikaria CEO Dr. Flemming Ornskov said company scientists have repeated the work of Dr. Mark Roth, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist whose technique for inducing temporary hibernation in rodents is the basis of Ikaria's technology. Ikaria has also shown that rodents treated with hydrogen sulfide can survive in an environment that's only 4 percent oxygen, "which would be lethal to any human," Ornskov said. Tests in larger animals have shown similar benefits, he said.

Ikaria leased 6,700 square feet of the 1616 Eastlake Ave. East building in Seattle and is building a custom laboratory on the third floor. It has been using space inside the Accelerator biotech incubator in the same building.

"I think it's a pretty big accomplishment that within eight months since we've started there, we are out of there," Ornskov said in an interview today as he was jetting off to Europe to meet with potential investors. "We've basically opened up a totally new research venue, which is hybernation pharmacology. People are really excited about it."

The company is continuing animal studies this year before seeking permission from the Food and Drug Administration to test the drug in humans. Ornskov expects Ikaria to grow to 20 employees by the end of 2006.

March 17, 2006

Nosing up again

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:29 PM

After Nastech Pharmaceutical lost a big-name partner at the beginning of the month, analysts at Needham & Co., dropped their rating on the stock.

Since then, the Bothell company has generated enough positive news to convince the analysts to restore their "buy" rating Friday. Investors followed suit, trading the stock up $1.64, 10.4 percent, to close at $17.41.

This week, Nastech marched out a new partnership with Novo Nordisk, promising early results of its RNA interference therapy candidates against flu and fourth-quarter and full-year results slightly ahead of analyst expectations.

Nastech is developing drugs formulated for nasal delivery to treat obesity, osteoporosis and other indications.

March 9, 2006

Cell Therapeutics pares annual loss to $102 million

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:36 AM

Cell Therapeutics shares were up 3 percent in midday trading after the company reported its fourth-quarter and full-year results.

The Seattle biotechnology company lost $18.7 million in the fourth quarter, or 27 cents a share, down from $43.5 million in the same period last year. For the year, the company recorded a loss of $102.5 million, $1.59 a share, down from $252.3 million, $4.67 a share, in 2004.

Cell Therapeutics booked a $71.2 million gain from the sale of Trisenox in 2005, including $40.7 million in the fourth quarter. The company sold the leukemia drug, its only approved product, to Cephalon last summer.

The company had $69.1 million in cash and equivalents on Dec. 31 and spent $73.8 million on operations in 2005, including a $12.8 million restructuring charge.

March 7, 2006

Nastech adds office, lab space

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:17 PM

Nastech Pharmaceutical is expanding into new space adjacent to its Bothell headquarters, according to a regulatory filing today.

The move into 27,322-square-feet of office and laboratory space brings the company's total footprint to 78,322, an increase of more than 53 percent. The company signed a 10-year lease and will pay monthly rent starting at $37,458.84 to Ditty Properties. Nastech also has first dibs on other space in the building at 3830 Monte Villa Parkway.

Nastech's stock gained 25 cents, 1.7 percent, to close at $14.75 today, which is up slightly from where it's been since Merck bowed out of a partnership to develop an obesity drug last week.

As high as an elephant's eye

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:26 PM

Eden Biosciences saw its stock grow like pumped-up corn after it announced data from a study of its protein supplement, ProAct.

Shares were up 19.2 percent, or 14 cents, to close at 87 cents in heavy trading today.

The Bothell company said ProAct, a protein product applied to crops at the same time as herbicides, increased field-corn yields by an average of 7 bushels per acre in a study done in partnership with the National Corn Growers Association last year.

The association projected a national average yield of 148.4 bushels per acre in 2005.

ProAct works by simulating an attack from a harmful bacteria, tricking the plant into increasing its growth and defense systems.

Eden CFO Brad Powell said farmers who used ProAct returned about five times their investment in the product, which costs around $5 per acre.

The data from the study will bolster Eden's marketing efforts, Powell said.

March 3, 2006

Insiders sell shares in SonoSite

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:07 PM

Some SonoSite execs and directors, led by CEO Kevin Goodwin, cashed out big-time this week.

Goodwin unloaded 95,000 shares on Wednesday for "personal reasons," spokeswoman Anne Bugge said.

"Most of these ... he has held since formation of the company," she said. "This is really the first time he's had a major sale."

At prices as high as $41 a share, he pocketed more than $3.8 million.

The shares represented about one-third of Goodwin's holdings, including stock and stock options, she said, not two-thirds as some investors concluded based on regulatory filings.

That confusion sent the stock down $2.91 or 7.1 percent to close at $38.10 today. SonoSite, a top maker of hand-carried ultrasound devices, had been on a run since last spring, climbing from less than $24 a share to a high of $41.81 last Wednesday.

Cathay Financial analyst Eli Kammerman told The Associated Press the sell-off may have been an overreaction to insider sales.

"SonoSite has long been speculated to be an acquisition target, and some investors may be reacting to the CEO's stock sale as a sign that an acquisition isn't imminent," Kammerman said. "When ATL Ultrasound spun SonoSite off in 1998, there was a provision in the agreement that any company that bought SonoSite within five years would have to pay the parent company a fee. That provision expires in April, so investors may be reading into insider sales as a sign that the company won't be acquired."

Other inside sellers this week include Kirby Cramer, a director, CFO Michael Schuh and Russell Edison, senior vice president of U.S. sales.

February 28, 2006

Nastech clears hurdle in generic race

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:25 AM

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Nastech Pharmaceutical's Bothell manufacturing facility to make a generic drug, but the company still faces regulatory and procedural hurdles before it can market the product.

The news today closes out a month of significant announcements for Nastech, which has seen its stock rise 15.4 percent since Feb. 1, closing Monday at $21.69, the highest level in nearly a decade.

It started with a partnership deal with Procter & Gamble worth up to $577 million. Then Nastech expanded its RNAi pipeline. Now the company is ready to manufacture calcitonin, a generic version of the osteoporosis drug Miacalcin, which it's making with Par Pharmaceutical.

But there is still an unresolved citizen petition potentially delaying FDA action on approving Nastech's generic drug, a situation detailed in this story. And Apotex applied for approval of its own generic calcitonin nasal spray before Nastech. That could mean Nastech would be delayed from marketing its generic for six months.

February 27, 2006

Biotech stock as Valentine's gift

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:23 PM

Bill Gates unloaded his personal stake in Seattle Genetics, gifting more than 3.5 million shares to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Valentine's Day, according to a regulatory filing Friday.

Shares in the Bothell biotechnology company closed at $4.79 that day, making the gift to the global charity worth $16.9 million.

Gates bought into the company in 2001. His stake represented 8.3 percent of the company's outstanding shares. Stock held by the foundation is deemed beneficially owned by Bill and Melinda Gates its co-trustees.

How a board says we've earned it

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:07 AM

Cell Therapeutics' board of directors must think it's doing a great job.

The board of the Seattle biotechnology company voted itself a raise on Feb. 17, according to a regulatory filing today.

Board members approved increases in the initial stock option grant non-employee directors get for joining the board from 15,000 shares to 24,000 shares, but now they vest after a year instead of immediately. Current directors will also get a "make-whole" grant of the difference between the new joining bonus and their initial option grant.

The annual retainer for non-employee directors was also increased from $18,000 to $25,000, and directors who chair committees now get more cash, too.

In addition, three board members were singled out and rewarded with option grants and $9,000 each for "exceptional contributions" to the company during the last two years. Phillip Nudelman received grants to purchase 18,000 shares; Mary Mundinger received 12,000; and Vartan Gregorian, 8,000.

February 22, 2006

Biotech sales up 17 percent

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:28 AM

Biotech drug sales are growing at a faster pace than prescription drugs as a whole and now represent 13 percent of U.S. sales, according to an IMS Health report released today.

Complex therapies such as Enbrel and Rituxan from biotech giants Amgen and Genentech, respectively, helped grow biotech sales to $32.8 billion in 2005, up 17 percent from 2004.

2005 prescription drug sales increased 5.4 percent to $251.8 billion.

Major pharmaceutical companies such as Wyeth expect more of their future sales to come from biotech drugs. The company's research and development head told Reuters that this category could reach 40 percent of sales within a decade, up from 25 percent currently.

Seattle's Trubion Pharmaceuticals, like many young biotech companies, has benefited from this trend. It announced a deal last month with Wyeth centering on a technology platform that could improve biotech drug development. The deal could be worth $800 million or more if certain goals are met.

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."

February 15, 2006

Richland's IsoRay starts year with cash

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:30 PM

The Richland company that makes radioactive "seeds" that can be inserted into solid tumors to treat cancer is touting a banner start to the year.

IsoRay Medical said it closed a $6 million private funding round at the end of January and has since raised more than $1.3 million through a new placement opened Feb. 1 to accommodate excess demand from investors.

It also signed a licensing agreement with a Belgian company that IsoRay says will reduce manufacturing and production costs of Cesium-131, the radioactive isotope it makes to treat prostate cancer. The collaborator, International Brachytherapy, can produce polymer seeds, which IsoRay CEO Roger Girard said offer advantages over the titanium seeds his company currently manufactures.

Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe



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