AVI Biopharma Settles Into New Digs, Scopes Out Seattle Biotech Talent Pool

9/29/09Follow @xconomy

The day I stopped by to visit Seattle’s newest biotech company, the building was chilly on one side and hot on the other. An assistant wasn’t sure at first where the light switch was in the conference room. Nobody answered right away when I called from the security phone outside.

“Hopefully the next time you come out here, we’ll figure out how the building works,” joked Les Hudson, the CEO of AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII).

AVI has reason to be a little disorganized since it just moved its headquarters from Portland, OR to Bothell, WA last month, as part of its strategy to grow into a more serious player in the field of RNA-based drugs that can treat underlying causes of disease in ways that traditional therapies can’t. The company (which is keeping some labs in Corvallis, OR) has gone through a metamorphosis this year, seeing its stock shoot up from 45 cents in the past year to $1.61 at the last close, on some progress with its first-in-class experimental treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Ebola and Marburg viruses. AVI, which entered the year with $11.4 million in cash in the bank, has seized on that momentum to raise another $50 million from Wall Street this year.

This is a pretty remarkable shift for a company founded in 1980, that has burned through $271 million of capital, and never in its history developed an FDA approved drug. The transition has happened under Hudson, 62, an immunologist who previously led Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, and DOV Pharmaceutical, after spending longer stretches of his career at Pharmacia and GlaxoSmithKline.

AVI moved in to space on Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell that used to be occupied by MDRNA (NASDAQ: MRNA). About 14 people at AVI had moved to the Bothell office on Sept. 17, the day I met with Hudson and AVI’s chief medical officer, Steve Shrewsbury. They have now posted 11 job openings to help boost the company’s capabilities in a number of areas, notably regulatory affairs.

Hudson was due to personally scope out a new apartment in Bellevue, a town which he says he likes because it’s close to the office and has “bright lights at night.” Hudson and Shrewsbury are still getting the lay of the land, and figuring out how to network to take advantage … Next Page »

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