Trubion Scores $20M, Archus Shuts Down, AVI Biopharma’s Hope for Muscular Dystrophy, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

9/3/09Follow @xconomy

One of the Seattle biotechs that’s been flying low on the radar this year popped back up on the scene with news of an important partnership.

—Seattle-based Trubion Pharmaceuticals had its best day of the year last Friday, when it said it secured a partnership with Redwood City, CA-based Facet Biotech (NASDAQ: FACT) to co-develop a drug for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The deal provides Trubion with $20 million in upfront cash, plus $10 million in equity investment from Facet. Shares in Trubion (NASDAQ: TRBN) shot up more than 40 percent on news of the deal.

—Bad news hit one of the stars of the Seattle medical device cluster this week as Redmond, WA-based Archus Orthopedics filed paperwork to dissolve the company. The company raised more than $60 million from a prominent group of venture investors since 2001, before it ran out of cash this year. Archus showed great promise, at least according to one patient who got its spinal implant in a clinical trial in 2006.

—Merck (NYSE: MRK) looked like it delivered a body blow to Seattle biotech last October when it said it was shutting down its Rosetta Inpharmatics division, sending 300 workers into an uncertain job market. It didn’t turn out to be as damaging to the region as first feared, as more than 110 Rosetta alumni will keep doing what they’re good at in local jobs at Covance, Microsoft, and Sage Bionetworks.

—Biotech companies haven’t had much progress to brag about toward a real treatment of the underlying cause of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the crippling genetic disease in young boys, but Bothell, WA-based AVI Biopharma has a chance to be a trailblazer, University of Washington neuroscientist Jeff Chamberlain told me during an in-depth interview.

—UW’s entrepreneurial bioengineering professor, Buddy Ratner, organized a conference on campus last week that attracted one of the top life sciences entrepreneurs of the past decade, Tufts University chemistry professor David Walt. I caught up with Walt, the co-founder of San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), for an exclusive interview on where he thinks genomics is heading, and his next big idea for a company.

—The Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute licensed some technology from an Israel-based company for “microneedles” that might be a less painful way to inject its experimental vaccines, and might have the added benefit of better stimulating powerful immune system cells just under the surface of the skin.

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