Lee Hood’s New Idea, Calypso Scores $50M, Novo’s Historic Mistake Pays Off for Seattle, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

9/25/09Follow @xconomy

This week featured the best run of positive news for Seattle biotech I’ve seen this year.

—Seattle-based Calypso Medical Technologies raised the biggest venture capital round of the year in the Northwest, pulling in $50 million. Calypso, which sells a device that pinpoints radiation therapy for prostate cancer so it doesn’t go off track and cause impotence, is gearing up for an international commercial push and expanded uses against other tumor types. Xconomy got the scoop from CEO Eric Meier on what the company did to convince the VCs to open up their checkbooks.

—Biotech legend Leroy Hood has secured $7.5 million in venture capital out of a $30 million offering, to launch a new company that aims to fulfill his vision for P4 medicine—predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory. This company, Integrative Diagnostics, isn’t saying yet who invested or exactly what it aims to accomplish, but Hood told me in an interview a year ago that it seeks to create machines that can spot signs of cancer in a pinprick of blood, at the earliest and most treatable stage of disease.

Novo Nordisk is the world’s largest maker of insulin for diabetes, and it is now looking to Seattle in a big way to help it forge the new frontiers of autoimmune disease. Novo CEO Lars Rebien Sorensen told a fascinating little story about how Novo’s short-sightedness three decades ago led it to Seattle, and how the company hopes to get ahead of the curve now by setting up its own research center here, and forming partnerships with the world-class scientists who live here.

—Seattle’s biotech companies, as a group, are in much better financial shape than they were at the beginning of the year. Essentially, 10 of the 12 companies Xconomy follows in Seattle are in better shape now than they were on New Year’s Day, based on our analysis of quarterly financial reports and some more recent news. This is a much better performance than I see in San Diego, where 15 of the 27 public companies we follow there were in a stronger cash position on June 30, according to the latest batch of quarterly SEC filings.

Gov. Chris Gregoire was rumored to skip out on her own Governor’s Life Sciences Summit this year, apparently because she’s so busy working with power brokers in DC on healthcare reform. But she showed up in Seattle for the summit anyway, and insisted she remains “committed” to the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund, mainly for its ability to produce promising new treatments for disease.

—I sat down for an extensive interview with Steve Gillis, one of the founders of the biotech industry both nationally and in Seattle. Gillis talked about how life is different for him as a venture capitalist at Arch Venture Partners, and how he hopes to make a broad impact on a new generation of entrepreneurs, and help them avoid some of the mistakes he made in his past life as a co-founder of Immunex and Corixa.

Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) has been pretty quiet for the past couple months, but it is showing off its game plan for the commercial rollout of sipuleucel-T (Provenge) today on Wall Street. I previewed this event with five key questions the Seattle-based company will have to answer.

—One prominent veteran of Dendreon, former chief medical officer Rob Hershberg, provided an in-depth update on his latest venture, VentiRx. Hershberg has become an evangelist for the lean-and-mean virtual company model that’s in vogue, and talked about how much progress his little band of 12 has made with two drugs in early-stage clinical trials.

—Of course, no week can go by with all the news being good. One disturbing trend we spotted was that some of the Seattle companies that have been fortunate to raise the most venture capital this year have still been cutting jobs or putting a lid on hiring. That’s something to consider when you hear the economists talk about the “jobless recovery.”

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