Dendreon Grasps for $400M, ZymoGenetics Cuts 52 Jobs, Calistoga Advances at ASH, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

12/10/09Follow @xconomy

I groused last week that Seattle biotech news was slow, so naturally, this week I got swamped.

—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN), the developer of a first-of-its-kind treatment to stimulate the immune system against cancer, is seeking to raise more than $400 million in a stock offering. The company plans to use the loot to build up its manufacturing and marketing muscle.

ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN), the granddaddy of Seattle biotech companies, said it was cutting 52 workers, or about 15 percent of its staff. The company isn’t going to discover immunology drugs anymore. Interestingly, while Zymo made those cuts, its old corporate parent Novo Nordisk is going the opposite direction. Zymo sold one of its immunology drug candidates in animal testing to Novo for $24 million in upfront cash.

Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, the Seattle-based developer of cancer and immunology drugs, showed off some impressive data for its lead drug candidate at the American Society of Hematology meeting in New Orleans. Results from the first 57 patients are compelling enough that Calistoga is preparing to leap ahead into a pivotal trial program next year.

Gov. Chris Gregoire is making deep cuts in Olympia, but so far, she hasn’t recommended whacking the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF). The fund is still expected to get its $39 million budget allocation over this two-year budget cycle, says LSDF executive director Lee Huntsman.

Arzeda, the Seattle-based company that makes designer enzymes on computers, said it has received a $149,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The goal is to see if it can make an enzyme that can transform plant biomass into butadiene, a key ingredient in synthetic rubber tires. The grant’s not worth much, but it speaks volumes about the company’s strategy, which CEO Michael Martino explained in this exclusive interview.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) suffered a setback with its antibody drug candidate dacetuzumab back in October, but now it may have some new life. The product, when given in combination with Roche and Biogen Idec’s rituximab (Rituxan) and chemotherapy, was able to completely or partially shrink tumors for 15 of 30 patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, in a clinical trial. Results of the latest study were presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting.

—The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had a pretty lucrative week. The Seattle-based nonprofit research center said it won a multi-year, $55 million contract from the National Cancer Institute to run the only site of its kind that operates a cancer information service for the public. That contract will add 60 jobs. The next day, the Hutch raised $8.9 million at its annual Hutch Holiday Gala, mostly to support its research into stimulating the immune system to fight cancer cells.

Stewart Lyman offered up another insightful observation in a guest editorial about how Hollywood is consistently portraying scientists as bad buys, largely inspired by a lot of corporate malfeasance in real life. If you’re not that familiar with Big Pharma’s tricks of the trade, you should check out the devastating list of industry wrongdoing Lyman has compiled from the past few years.

Washington State University, along with Seattle-based Targeted Growth and Inventure Chemical, will share a $2 million federal grant to support research and development of algae as a source of biofuels.

—Lastly, I got a good reminder this week of how prevention of illness can sometimes be a better business than treatments. Seattle-based Free & Clear, which had received $17 million in venture capital, was honored with the “Deal of the Year” award by the Evergreen Venture Capital Association. The company, which has a coaching program for smoking cessation, was acquired in September for $130 million. It may not be as lucrative as creating a blockbuster drug for lung cancer, but 800,000 people have voluntarily enrolled in the program, and Free & Clear estimates that its work has helped the population add a total of 2 million years of extra life.

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