Dendreon’s Former Boss Predicts Takeover, Covance Buys Merck Lab, How NanoString Got $30M, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

7/30/09Follow @xconomy

This was another busy week on the Seattle biotech scene, with some takeover speculation surrounding the latest success story (Dendreon), a big pharmaceutical industry player moving to town (Covance), and a behind-the-scenes tale of how NanoString Technologies scored one of the bigger venture investments of the year.

—Christopher Henney, the former CEO of Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN), sat down for an exclusive interview with Xconomy about his former company, which ran in installments on Monday and Tuesday. Henney predicts that Seattle-based Dendreon, the developer of what many consider the first successful treatment to actively stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells like a virus, might end up getting acquired, just like the two other successful companies he co-founded—Immunex and Icos.

Covance (NYSE: CVD), the giant drug development services provider, agreed to acquire the last big piece that was unaccounted for in the breakup of Merck’s former Rosetta Inpharmatics operation in Seattle. Covance agreed to acquire the Gene Expression Laboratory at Rosetta, and according to CEO Joe Herring, this multi-national company has big growth plans for its new asset in Seattle.

—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies scored one of the bigger venture investments of the year when it got $30 million last month from Clarus Ventures, OVP Venture Partners, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Behind the scenes, the pivotal moment happened when a young principal at Clarus, who used to work at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, heard glowing reviews from happy customers at that leading-edge genetics center.

Stewart Lyman contributed some fascinating insight to the Xconomist Forum this week about what it is that made Genentech and his former employer, Immunex, such special places for biotech innovation. He has some suggestions on how new companies can replicate that culture of innovation, and they don’t involve any of the fancy shortcuts preferred by some of the industry’s financial backers.

Targeted Growth CEO Tom Todaro offered an overview on the unusual strategy he has developed to capitalize on some intriguing basic research into cell division that has origins at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The Seattle company is splitting its resources in half between programs to boost yields of crops, and to create sources of alternative energy. A couple days after this feature ran, Targeted Growth announced it had found a way to significantly boost yields of algae for producing oil.

AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII), the Portland, OR-based developer of RNA-based therapies, said it secured $1.2 million in funding from a U.K.-based charity that supports research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

—Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC), the developer of cancer drugs, closed on another round of financing that ultimately netted a little more than $40 million after expenses.

—Bothell, WA-based Sonosite (NASDAQ: SONO), the maker of portable ultrasound machines for medical diagnosis, said its sales declined 12 percent in the second quarter. It blamed the slowdown on reduced spending by U.S. hospitals.

—Seattle-based Calypso Medical Technologies, the maker of technology to pinpoint radiation therapy for prostate cancer patients, said it formed a collaboration with Palo Alto, CA-based Varian Medical Systems, to incorporate the Calypso technology into Varian’s radiation systems. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

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