A Brief Year-End Review of Seattle Biotech

12/31/09

Well, 2009 did not turn out to be the biotechnology disaster here in Seattle that many people had predicted.

By my reckoning, only four of the local biotech companies that I track on my website went bust in 2009 (Eden Biosciences, VizX Labs, Northstar Neurosciences, and Rosetta Inpharmatics). This last blow was softened when Microsoft bought some of Rosetta’s assets from Merck (it’s biosoftware division) and hired a number of its employees. Many of the VizX employees (along with its GeneSifter software) were absorbed by Geospiza. The loss of four companies put Seattle on a roughly equal footing with Boston, which saw at least five companies fold, and San Diego, where at least six companies went under.

Although we didn’t lose quite as many companies, it was still a very tough year locally for those employed in the biotech sector. At least nine companies reported significant layoffs, including Cardiac Science, CMC Icos, Trubion Pharmaceuticals, Cell Therapeutics, Poniard Pharmaceuticals, Amgen, Targeted Genetics, ZymoGenetics, and VLST.

On the positive side, Dendreon moved much closer to being able to sell sipuleucel-T (Provenge), their novel treatment for prostate cancer, and has been on a hiring frenzy. OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals had a breakout year with its own prostate cancer treatment. Partnerships were both formed and broken at a dizzying pace, with Seattle Genetics, ZymoGenetics, MDRNA, Alder Biopharmaceuticals, Arzeda, Ikaria, Kineta, Trubion, and Nanostring among the notable participants. Amgen won its long running patent fight with Roche and was able to block them from selling generic erythropoiesis stimulating drugs in the U.S. Some top executives moved around, with Immune Design gaining part-time help from ex-Zymo CEO Bruce Carter, and with Peter Thompson leaving Trubion and Stewart Parker departing Targeted Genetics.

Other notable events: PATH won the $1.5 million Hilton Prize, the world’s biggest humanitarian award, for it’s work improving health in poor countries, and local biotech Omeros was successful in launching their IPO (although the stock price has dropped some 25 percent since then).

A number of new companies launched or moved into the area, including Arrowsmith Technologies, Beat Biotherapeutics, Qwell Pharmaceuticals, ImaRx, Novo Nordisk, AVI Biopharma, Covance, Arzeda, Xori, Presage Therapeutics, Integrated Diagnostics, Sage Bionetworks, and Genzyme (via its acquisition of Leukine from Bayer). Chris Rivera got off to an excellent start as he took over the head job at the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. The State’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund expenditures were cut by 41 percent to help balance out the state budget deficit.

In 2010, at least three companies that operate in Seattle will hope to have their drugs approved: Dendreon’s sipuleucel-T (Provenge) for prostate cancer, Amgen’s denosumab (Prolia) for osteoporosis, and Cell Therapeutics’ pixantrone for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Here’s hoping that they all fair well.

Health care reform is sure to bring numerous changes to the industry. One key change likely to be enacted via legislation in 2010 will define a regulatory pathway for the approval of follow-on biologics, which are generic versions of biologic-based drugs. This has the potential of providing significant savings for consumers, although such benefits will depend on the period of market exclusivity awarded to innovator drugs.

Continuing economic problems indicate to me that 2010 will also be a very challenging year for biotech companies in Seattle and beyond. I expect to see many more deals for the acquisition of product candidates, but not so many acquisitions of companies. I wish all of you on the local biotech scene a productive and successful year in 2010.

Stewart Lyman is Owner and Manager of Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC in Seattle. He provides strategic advice to clients on their research programs, collaboration management issues, as well as preclinical data reviews. Follow @

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