AVI Biopharma Bolts from Portland to Seattle to Tap Biotech Talent
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of the time zone difference with Corvallis. It also considered sites in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hudson says. I also wondered if Christopher Henney may have helped make the decision. He’s the chairman of AVI Biopharma, and a Seattleite who happens to have co-founded the Northwest’s three most successful biotech companies of the past 30 years—Immunex, Icos, and Dendreon. (Hudson laughed at this suggestion, although he did note that Henney was AVI chairman when this decision was made.)
No matter how the decision was made, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, the biotech industry trade group, cheered the move. “The company’s move to our region is yet another example of the area’s ability to attract top caliber talent and connect growing companies with the resources they need to thrive,” said WBBA president Chris Rivera in a statement.
Now that AVI is moving to new digs, it will be intriguing to see whether it can continue building on the momentum it has gotten this year. The company has shown enough promise with its new management and revamped business model that it was able to raise $16.5 million from institutional investors back in January—when hardly anybody in biotech could scrape up a dime. Since then, it has produced a steady stream of small, but creative, financings to fatten its balance sheet.
This week, it pulled in $1.2 million for its muscular dystrophy program from a U.K.-based patient advocacy group, not long after it got $3 million from a U.S.-based patient advocate, and part of a $2.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense. When swine flu hit the headlines, it pounced, picking up another U.S. defense contract worth as much as $5.1 million. AVI is also still awaiting word on a much bigger deal, a contract worth as much as $50 million, from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop treatments for Ebola and Marburg virus.
Lest anyone worry, even though AVI works on biodefense drugs, there’s no chance that killer bugs will get out into the local Seattle air and cause mass panic. The people who wear those spacesuit-style outfits to handle those pathogens, in ultra-secure Biosafety Level 4 facilities, are at a site run by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) on the East Coast, Hudson says.