Cell Therapeutics Nabs $30M, Rick Klausner on Vaccines, Targeted Growth Tinkers With Algae Genes, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

8/20/09Follow @xconomy

Somebody forgot to tell the Northwest biotech community this is the height of vacation season. Our pages this week were packed with stories on financings, clinical trials, exclusive interviews and more.

Rick Klausner, the former leader of the National Cancer Institute and the global health wing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provided some intriguing insights on cutting-edge biology that he’s been following in his new job as a venture capitalist. Deep into this story, Klausner explains why he thinks Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) is just scratching the surface of what immune-stimulating therapies will be able to do in the future.

Targeted Growth gets its share of publicity for its camelina seeds that are used to make jet fuel, but further in the future, Targeted Growth envisions making a bigger impact with genetically modified algae that can be made to compete on price with petroleum. We got the story from a conversation with Targeted Growth’s Margaret McCormick.

—Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC) raised about $40 million last month, and lo and behold, this week it found yet another lone institutional investor willing to wager another $30 million that this company has brighter days ahead. Cell Therapeutics has asked the FDA to approve its experimental pixantrone therapy for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit that works to improve health in poor countries, won the closest thing the humanitarian field has to the Nobel—the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. PATH president Chris Elias envisions using the $1.5 million cash award as seed capital for a five-year, $25 million plan to support innovative new global health technologies, and to support geographic expansion in Africa.

Amgen scientists in Seattle had something to celebrate a week ago, but just one week later the picture has gotten a little muddier. Earlier, we reported that the first big prospective clinical trial confirmed the company’s hypothesis that panitumumab (Vectibix) can slow the spread of tumors for colorectal cancer patients with normal forms of the KRAS gene (and that the drug doesn’t help those with mutated forms). This week a second clinical trial in a sicker patient population found the same pattern with respect to slowing the spread of tumors, although the treatment didn’t actually help normal KRAS patients live any longer.

Seattle Genetics put the finishing touches on its big stock offering, which ended up generating a grand total of $136 million. The Bothell, WA-based developer of cancer drugs (NASDAQ: SGEN) said its underwriters exercised all their options to buy an extra 1.65 million shares. JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs were joint book-running managers of the offering. (Apparently Seattle Genetics saw fit to use at least a little money to spiff up its website, too.)

—Seattle-based biotech consultant Stewart Lyman submitted another intriguing editorial for the Xconomist Forum on why Big Pharma companies have many reasons to make biologic drugs. Some of this is about science, but there’s politics and business to consider, too.

—Mukilteo, WA-based CombiMatrix (NASDAQ: CBMX), the maker of genetic analysis tools, is looking to hire an investment bank to consider whether the time is right to sell the company. Back in June, after it got crushed by bigger competitors selling DNA microarray tools, I profiled the company’s attempt to reinvent itself around cancer diagnostics.

Light Sciences Oncology isn’t just about oncology anymore. The Bellevue, WA-based company said it has started enrolling patients in a clinical trial to see if it can treat benign prostatic hyperplasia, otherwise known as an enlarged prostate. The company’s technology uses light-emitting diodes, threaded into localized tissue, to activate a drug within a certain wavelength.

—Seattle-based Sound Pharmaceuticals, the developer of treatments for hearing loss, said this week it nailed down a $2.1 million contract from the U.S. Navy to continue developing its lead therapy. It’s the third grant the company has gotten from the Navy since 2005, and will enable it to beef up its pipeline of experimental treatments, says CEO Jonathan Kil.

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