UW’s Gardasil Windfall, Cell Therapeutics Unloads Zevalin, Trubion Cuts Jobs, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

2/26/09Follow @xconomy

It was another busy week in Seattle’s life sciences scene, with a mix of stories from biotech, medical devices, diagnostics, and biofuels.

—Xconomy had the exclusive feature story on how the University of Washington is reaping a windfall of royalties because one of its inventions from the 1980s is used for manufacturing Merck’s billion-dollar vaccine, Gardasil. UW is now getting more than $40 million a year from the Washington Research Foundation, about triple the amount of three years ago, which is helping the university revitalize its technology transfer program under Linden Rhoads.

—Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC) needed to do something fast to raise the cash to keep the doors open past the end of February, so it sold the remaining 50 percent stake it owned in the cancer drug Zevalin for $18 million. Now it still has the pesky matter of finding a way to free itself of a suffocating debt load of $124 million.

—Trubion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TRBN) laid off 25 workers, about one-fourth of its staff, yesterday in order to stretch its cash reserves into the second half of 2010. The Seattle company, a developer of drugs for cancer and autoimmune diseases, will have to deal with a load of uncertainty this year as Pfizer aims to acquire its partner, Wyeth, which would put a whole new crew of decision-makers across the table.

—Redmond, WA-based Bionavitas pulled back the curtain on its secret recipe for making algae biofuels. The company is using what it calls “light immersion technology” to help algae grow efficiently in deeper pools of water, where the sun it needs to thrive usually doesn’t shine. This is still a long way off from commercial reality, but worth watching since investors like Bill Gates and Arch Venture Partners see algae as a more efficient source of renewable material for fuel than corn or soybeans.

—The Zino Society organized its first Life Sciences Investment Forum for angel investors. This event drew 12 companies to make their best pitch in 7 minutes to a room of investors. Here’s who caught the eye of the judges.

—Protein AI, a Seattle-based diagnostic startup, won a $700,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a fast new test to detect leprosy infections. The test should be on the market by the end of 2009 or early 2010, says CEO Darrick Carter.

—Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) checked off another goal on its list for 2009, by completing enrollment of 210 patients in a clinical trial of its SGN-33 drug for acute myeloid leukemia. This trial, which seeks to answer whether the drug can help people live longer, should provide an answer by the first half of 2010. The company also said it has begun enrollment in a pivotal study of its lead drug candidate, SGN-35, for Hodgkin’s disease.

Here’s a scoop we had this week from San Diego-based Ambrx that has implications for its Seattle-based competitor, Allozyne. Ambrx signed a partnership to develop a new drug for multiple sclerosis with one of the big players in that disease category, Germany-based Merck KGaA. Ambrx was coy about what advantages its drug has, although it has disclosed in the past that it is working on a longer-lasting form of interferon beta drugs that would allow MS patients to take fewer injections, and suffer fewer side effects—the same goal as Allozyne.

—ImaRx Therapeutics, the Redmond, WA-based developer of a drug-device combination treatment for stroke, presented data last week at a medical meeting that it hopes will spark some interest in keeping its SonoLysis treatment alive. CEO Bradford Zakes hasn’t reported any new support from investors or partners, although he says the ImaRx presentation at the International Stroke Conference was one of the best-attended at the meeting.

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