Dendreon Drug Prolongs Life, ZymoGenetics Cuts Staff, Microsoft Tackles Biotech & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

4/30/09Follow @xconomy

This week, Seattle biotech got some of the best news it has seen in years. One local biotech company, Dendreon, scored a major coup by generating results that show its immune-boosting drug for prostate cancer can prolong life with minimal side effects. But there was a lot more happening in the local lab scene than that.

—Dendreon dominated the headlines this week during its appearance at the American Urological Association meeting in Chicago. The Seattle biotech company (NASDAQ: DNDN) said that its immune-booster for prostate cancer, sipuleucel-T (Provenge) was able to extend lives by a median time of 4.1 months, with side effects including fever and chills. I did a detailed primer on what to expect in the hours before the data, covered the quick breaking news, and then followed up by combing through the details. The company finished the day with a party.

—Seattle-based ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN) had some bad news just a couple days after Dendreon’s celebration. Zymo said it is cutting 161 jobs, or about one-third of its staff, to conserve it cash, in the hopes that it will be self-sustaining without the need for any more funding from Wall Street.

—Gov. Chris Gregoire’s biotech fund will still exist after the latest round of budget cuts, although it took a 41 percent cut. The Life Sciences Discovery Fund will get $19 million annually over the next two years to continue investing in research with commercial potential in the state.

—I had the good fortune to hear a great talk last week by Paul Farmer, the physician famed for his work in the developing world, at a fundraiser for Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. He thanked this audience of Seattle global health boosters for performing CPR on this field, which was pretty depressed when he got into it 26 years ago.

—Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is starting to make its life sciences strategy much more clear. The Redmond, WA-based software firm said this week it is introducing Amalga Life Sciences, a program that’s supposed to help lab scientists make sense of all the data that’s been piling up in disparate programs over the years, including old-fashioned Excel.

—Portland, OR-based AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII) is gearing up for what it hopes will be a big contract for drugs to combat RNA-based drugs for Ebola and Marburg viruses. The company could hear a verdict on whether it gets this military contract sometime this summer.

—Seattle-based Geospiza, a maker of software to help biologists analyze loads of genomic data, got some love this week from Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies. Life (NASDAQ: LIFE) a leading maker of instruments for high-powered gene sequencing, agreed to a partnership with Geospiza and Amazon Web Services to help scientists store all this massive data through cloud computing, which means they can keep the data on someone else’s servers, and not have to hire a bioinformatics expert in-house to manage all the data.

—The latest effort by industry and state officials to convince the public that biotech matters is again hanging its hat on the hope for creating jobs. I challenged this assertion, and showed that the industry hasn’t created many local jobs in recent years.

—Bothell, WA-based Sonosite (NASDAQ: SONO) said it is having a hard time selling its portable ultrasound machines to hospitals in the current economic downturn. It forecasts overall sales this year will be flat to down 10 percent compared with 2008.

—PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit that works to reduce global health disparities, said it has received a pair of grants to improve HIV treatment. The grants are worth a combined $52 million over three years.

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