AVI Bolts to Seattle, OncoGenex Escapes Dendreon’s Shadow, Buddhists Helping Biotech, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

8/6/09Follow @xconomy

Some of the lesser-known names in Seattle life sciences made some noise this week, just when we here at the Xconomy biotech desk thought things might slow down a tad in the dog days of summer.

AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII), the Portland, OR-based maker of RNA-based therapies, is now getting a new tagline as the Bothell, WA-based maker of RNA-based therapies. This company, led by CEO Les Hudson and chairman Christopher Henney, decided to move its headquarters to the Seattle area to tap into this region’s deeper biotech talent pool as it advances drugs through clinical trials for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Ebola and Marburg virus, and other tough-to-treat conditions.

—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) has one of the most avid fan bases in the biotech industry, but few people realize it has a low-key neighbor across the lake in Bothell, WA, that has also produced some very impressive results against prostate cancer this year. Scott Cormack, the CEO of OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OGXI) told me this week in an exclusive feature that he’s fielding “competitive” partnership proposals from a number of Big Pharma companies that want a piece of its action.

—Sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot in biotech, and that’s what Seattle-based Oncothyreon did this week. The company (NASDAQ: ONTY) said on Monday that some follow-up data suggests its immune-boosting therapy for lung cancer was able to generate long-term tumor responses without causing any serious side effects. This boosted the stock 26 percent on Monday. One day later, Oncothyreon CEO Bob Kirkman seized on the newfound demand for his shares by selling some more shares, and refilling the company coffers with $15 million.

—Scientists over at PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit that works to improve health in poor countries, were pumped up about a new formula they developed that was shown to protect hepatitis B vaccine from getting damaged by hot or cold temperatures. This work, financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, only adds one-tenth of a penny to the cost of a vaccine dose, and PATH says it ought to work just as well for a wide range of vaccines.

—Seattle-based ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN) said this week that second-quarter sales started to pick up, as expected, for its sole marketed product for surgical bleeding. The company reported $6 million in sales of recombinant thrombin (Recothrom), which puts it on pace to reach its full-year sales forecast of $25 million to $35 million.

—Buddhists and biotechies don’t usually go hand-in-hand, but this sort of unlikely alliance might yield some big future opportunities for biomedical entrepreneurs in mental health, according to Seattle’s Ben Shapiro. He’s the former executive vice president of worldwide research at Merck, who has been exposed to these ideas through serving on the board of the nonprofit Mind & Life Institute in Boulder, CO.

—Does the laid-back Northwest lifestyle keep this region from reaching its full potential as a dynamic hub of innovation and entrepreneurship? Janis Machala, the champion of startup creation at the UW TechTransfer office, stirred the pot last week with some thought-provoking comments about this idea at an event hosted by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. This generated a lot of comments, many of them quite thoughtful, at the tail end of the story.

—Seattle-based Amnis, the maker of an instrument for high-speed imaging of cells, said it closed on the first $839,000 out of a $1.5 million round of financing. The company, which has seen rising demand for its second-generation product, raised the cash from CVF LLC, MedVenture Associates, and OrbiMed Capital, and angel investors.

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