Oncothyreon CEO on Next-Generation Cancer Vaccines, Two Key Zymonites, and Serious Luck

12/23/09Follow @xconomy

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BK: No, I don’t.

X: Do you want to take it all the way through Phase II before you open it up for talks?

BK: I’m more opportunistic than that. We will actively develop the compound. If there’s a partnership that lets us develop that compound better, then that’s what we’ll do. But we have the ability to take that molecule through Phase II ourselves, and that’s what we’re planning to do.

X: Did you get any more interest around ASCO when [South San Francisco-based] Exelixis did their huge deal with Sanofi-Aventis? Did that change the value of this asset?

BK: It put a marker out there for what PI3 kinase programs can be worth. There have been two pretty good sized deals. That one, and the Roche/Genentech purchase of Piramed the year before were both for substantial amounts of money. It should be a signal to folks about what the potential of this program is.

X: Did anything bad happen to you this year?

BK: (laughs, pause).

X: Well, what are you worrying about these days?

BK: We worry about the same thing everybody in this business worries about. That’s whether the clinical data you get in later-stage trials doesn’t replicate what you see in early-stage trials. It’s the big worry for everybody. It comes with the territory. All you can do is look at your data and make the best choices you can based on what you’ve seen. You worry about that, and will something happen in the external world that makes it impossible for you to get resources to develop your products.

I’d certainly like to take credit for everything that happened in 2009, but obviously we were the recipient of some serious luck this year. The markets changed around, and the good news wit [Dendreon's sipuleucel-T (Provenge)] had a dramatic effect on the perception of the therapeutic vaccine space. There’s no question that has changed the perception. Obviously, there’s a big event coming for that product in May. I have no control over that one, but the outcome will clearly have an effect.

A year ago, I was completely dependent on the external world in terms of my ability to get resources for the company. Now I am not. I now know that I have the resources to get to the major event for our lead program. That’s a dramatically better place to be than we were a year ago.

X: I think of you guys as exemplifying something that happened here in Seattle this year, among the public companies. There were a number of companies last fall, running low on cash, heading into this horrific downturn, backs against the wall, needed to do a deal, needed to raise money, needed to do something to ensure the company’s financial future. You guys did it. And there were several others. Dendreon would have been in the same boat if its drug had busted, Seattle Genetics raised a lot of money, OncoGenex in Bothell had some good data and got a big boost. When you look around Seattle biotech, is it in a stronger position?

BK: I think Seattle biotech is definitely in a stronger position than it was a year ago. The public companies have done reasonably well this year. There continues to be an interesting private company sector in the city. Compared to maybe San Diego, this has been a good year for us in Seattle. It’s great. It’s good for the city. It makes it easier on everybody. It’s easier to recruit people into the city when there’s a strong base of biotech here. It’s easier to get people to visit, whether it’s bankers, or analysts, or any other people we depend on.

X: Are you finding it easier to recruit?

BK: It’s certainly easier for us. It’s a lot easier to recruit when people can look at your cash position and prospects in the next year or two and see some stability and some positive upside.

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