Seattle Genetics Drug Fights Hodgkin’s, Frazier Sounds Off on Biotech Ventures, SBRI Pushes Malaria Vaccine, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

12/11/08Follow @xconomy

Maybe everybody’s rushing to scratch things off the to-do list before the holidays, but this was one of the busiest weeks of the year we’ve seen in Seattle biotech news. Here are the highlights.

Seattle Genetics had a big week. The Bothell, WA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: SGEN) said follow-up data in a clinical trial of its “empowered antibody” for Hodgkin’s disease and related lymphomas showed it’s getting better at causing complete remissions, and the effect appears to be long-lasting. Another drug passed an interim safety analysis.

Alan Frazier, who oversees $1.8 billion for Frazier Healthcare Ventures, sat down with me for an exclusive interview. He had some interesting advice for how companies can adapt to one of the worst busts in the industry’s 30-year history.

—An effective malaria vaccine has eluded scientists for a century, so I stopped by to interview Stefan Kappe of Seattle Biomedical Research Institute to find out why he’s so excited about a new approach. I made sure to track down Kappe in advance of our Xconomy Forum tonight, which focuses on next-generation vaccines in development.

Alder Biopharmaceuticals, a Bothell, WA-based developer of antibody drugs, received some good fortune in time for the holidays. Its leading competitor, Switzerland-based Roche, was hit with a delay from the FDA that is expected to slow down its plans to commercialize a rheumatoid arthritis drug by at least a year. This could give little Alder a chance to catch up.

—We broke the unfortunate news here last Friday that Calypso Medical Technologies laid off 36 workers, or about one-fifth of its staff, to conserve cash in the downturn. To see an updated list of layoffs at Seattle life sciences companies, click here.

Some life sciences companies and organizations are still hiring in Seattle, so I set out to track down this information, despite the drumbeat of layoff news. If anybody out there knows of big names I’m missing, please send me a note at editors@xconomy.com.

ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN) said its sole marketed product, recombinant thrombin for surgical bleeding, didn’t cause any immune reactions when given to patients who were at risk of getting that complication. The company will use this data to try to persuade doctors it has a safer alternative than the standard drug made from cow blood, by Bristol, TN-based King Pharmaceuticals.

—The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center raised $2.2 million in donations for its scientific programs Saturday night, at its annual Hutch Holiday Gala. The center plans to funnel much of the money into immunotherapy research in which scientists try to “teach” the immune system to fight cancer cells like a virus.

Calistoga Pharmceuticals, a Seattle-based biotech startup, got a small feather in its cap with an oral presentation at the American Society of Hematology, showing that it can kill cancer cells in the lab dish with a drug that blocks PI3 kinase. This is a hot target several companies are pursuing, as I described in a company profile back in October.

A new biotech company surfaced in town this week, Seattle-based Kineta. This outfit was formed by Shawn Iadonato and Charles Magness, after their previous company, Illumigen Biosciences, was acquired by Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals. Kineta aims to trigger innate immunity against hepatitis C and other viral and immune diseases.

Zevalin, the slow-selling drug for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma marketed by Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics, continued to show really promising results at a medical meeting. When patients were put in complete remission, they were kept there for at least 67 months on the drug, compared with 31 months for patients in a control group. The question is whether Cell Therapeutics has enough cash to survive as a company to capitalize on this.

—Kirkland, WA-based OVP Venture Partners named Carl Weissman to the elevated post of managing director. He’s still keeping his job as CEO of Seattle-based Accelerator, the startup incubator, although this means David Schubert is taking on some added responsibility with a promotion from chief business officer to president. Schubert played a key role in securing a new investment in Accelerator last month from PPD.

—Seattle-based PATH, the nonprofit devoted to improving global health, invested $3 million in a vaccine candidate against the deadly strain of H5N1 “bird” flu. The vaccine is in development by Lentigen, a Gaithersburg, MD-based biotech company.

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