Burrill on How Dx Will Beat Rx, VCs Rip Into Pols, Tekmira Strikes Pfizer Deal, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

3/18/10Follow @xconomy

I was happy to meet many regular readers during a two-day frenzy of networking, reporting, and writing at the Life Sciences Innovation Northwest meeting. Sleep is now moving up the priority list, so my conference wrap up will have to wait a few more hours. But until then, here’s a recap on the last week in Seattle biotech.

—Most of Seattle’s biotech companies are in the wrong business, if you believe industry maven Steve Burrill. Seattle doesn’t have much action in diagnostics, but in the future, personalized medicine and genomic diagnostics (Dx) will become more valuable than prescription pharmaceuticals (Rx), Burrill said in his opening keynote talk at the conference. If you have a break, you can click through the whole 146-slide PowerPoint deck that Burrill zipped through in a little more than 40 minutes.

—Seattle’s biotech VC godfather, Bob Nelsen of Arch Venture Partners, offered his view on some of the hypocrisy he sees among elected officials who say they are for innovation, but then push for policies that will strangle it. You can read more here to see what he means specifically about some state tax proposals in a guest editorial he wrote earlier. But I have one question for readers to consider: If you were in office, how would you balance the budget?

—I did a quick interview with Rajiv Shah, the new administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who was in town to talk to biotechies about how he hopes to use USAID’s purchasing power to buy some of the innovations for global health that he sees emerging in Seattle and around the world.

—One biotech startup managed to pull down some significant cash, and time it for the first morning of the conference. This was Presage Biosciences, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which raised its first $3.1 million from angel investors. The company has developed a tool that it offers to large pharmaceutical companies, which it says should be able to boost the success rate of experimental cancer drugs from 1 in 10 to about 1 in 2. If proven over time, that’s the kind of thing pharma companies might pay for to help solve their atrocious R&D productivity problem.

—We rolled out a big announcement about another event Xconomy is organizing. This one is about innovations in healthcare information technology, way beyond what you hear about electronic medical records. It’s going to be from 2 pm to 6:30 pm on May 12 at the Frye Art Museum on Seattle’s First Hill. Swedish Medical Center CEO Rod Hochman, Sage Bionetworks founder Stephen Friend, Canary Foundation founder Don Listwin, and Microsoft HealthVault’s David Cerino are among the stellar cast of speakers we have assembled to talk about how everything from genomic data to blood pressure readouts will be corralled by IT in the future.

—Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals said this week it has found another new partner, Pfizer, that wants to use its RNA interference delivery technology. Terms weren’t disclosed, but it certainly gave CEO Mark Murray something new and interesting to talk about at the Innovation Northwest conference.

—Bothell, WA-based Acucela released some minor news, saying that its lead drug candidate for the “dry” form of age-related macular degeneration received “Fast Track” designation from the FDA. This means that the company, and its partner Otsuka Pharmaceutical, can turn in data on the drug as it becomes available rather than waiting until the whole package is complete—and it gives the company a chance to win an expedited regulatory review that’s sometimes given to drugs that treat serious conditions.

—We had an interesting story earlier in the week on how a couple of video game guys from Microsoft took what they learned about 3-D imaging and applied it to a software program to help doctors and patients read complex CT and MRI scans on a regular Windows PC. The technology from Redmond, WA-based FiatLux Imaging is available for use, and new CEO Max Lyon offered a glimpse into how he sees this becoming a business.

—We normally skip routine personnel news, but I made an exception for this one. One charismatic Bruce from Seattle biotech (Carter) is now being joined by another well-known biotech charmer named Bruce (Montgomery). The two Bruces are now colleagues on the board of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN).

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