Vulcan’s Biotech Windfall, Tekmira Tackles RNAi Delivery, The $1,000 Genome Debate, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

5/28/09Follow @xconomy

The usual suspects in Seattle biotech were quiet this week, but we reported on an intriguing cancer drug developer with Paul Allen’s fingerprints all over it, as well as some compelling life sciences companies from British Columbia.

Vulcan Capital, the investment vehicle that controls billionaire Paul Allen‘s fortune, quietly dialed back its biotech investing a couple years ago. But it planted one very promising seed back in 2005, BiPar Sciences, which has produced a windfall $100 million return on a $13 million venture investment. We’ll see exactly why researchers are so excited about this company’s cancer drug at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting this weekend.

—Most of the glory for developing RNA interference drugs goes to Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, but the company relies on an important partner in Vancouver, BC, Tekmira, to help deliver these drugs through the body. I got some insight into Tekmira from CEO Mark Murray.

—I profiled another Canadian biotech that tends to fly below the local radar, Victoria, BC-based GenoLogics. This company received $5 million from venture backers in February, including OVP Venture Partners. It aspires to stitch together a dizzying mosaic of data from lab samples, patient medical records, and genomic analyses into something useful for biologists.

—Individual genomes will soon be as done for as little as $1,000, so what will this fast-moving technology mean for how medicine is practiced, and for society? Here’s the recap from a fascinating conversation between Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology, and Irving Weissman of Stanford University, who held court during the OVP Tech Summit in Seattle.

—We captured some of the entrepreneurial spirit of the University of Washington‘s Business Plan Competition in our pages last week, including this post for the Xconomist Forum from Anthony Rodriguez. He’s a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering, fired up about a new company called Shockmetrics that aims to detect medical shock at an earlier, and more treatable, stage.

Fate Therapeutics, the high-profile company that aims to use stem cell biology to create new treatments, started its first clinical trial this week. Fate is based in La Jolla, CA—right next door to the Xconomy San Diego bureau—but we like to keep tabs on this company in Seattle as well because it has ties to the University of Washington and Arch Venture Partners.

—We had one significant biotech financing for the week, as Seattle-based Uptake Medical raised $3 million. Uptake is developing a minimally-invasive method for sealing off diseased portions of lungs, for people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis, otherwise known by the umbrella term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

MDRNA (NASDAQ: MRNA), the Bothell, WA-based developer of RNA interference drugs, said it is shrinking its board from eight to five members as part of its effort to save money. Former CEO Steven Quay, Alex Cross, and Jack Pollack are out.

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