Dendreon’s Pricing Question, UW’s $300M Stimulus Windfall, Cell Therapeutics Rejected by FDA, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

4/15/10Follow @xconomy

One of Seattle’s oldest biotech companies was rejected by U.S. drug regulators in the past week, while another is on pins and needles awaiting what most analysts expect will be an imminent FDA approval.

How much will people pay for a new prostate cancer drug that will help men live a median of four months longer than a placebo? That’s one of the big questions at Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) as it enters the final days before the FDA says whether the drug, sipuleucel-T (Provenge), is ready for the market or not. I polled seven analysts on their price projections, and dug into some of the factors that Dendreon has to consider when it sets the price.

—The FDA rejected Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics‘ application to sell a new drug for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pixantrone. This was the obvious outcome, since the FDA’s cancer boss, Richard Pazdur, gave the company a public dressing down at an advisory committee hearing last month, and the panel of cancer experts voted 9-0 against it. Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC) hoped to get out of this jam by holding a shareholder meeting where it would win authorization to sell millions of more shares, but it postponed that meeting, probably because it was unable to get a quorum of shareholders—a problem that has dogged the company in the past. A subsequent conference call about the company’s future plans struck me as so absurd I chose to Tweet about it in real-time, but not spend more time writing. If you really want to follow this in more depth, read a blistering opinion piece from TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein.

—We had some encouraging news from Eastern Washington this week. Waltham, MA-based PerkinElmer said it agreed to acquire Spokane, WA-based Signature Genomic Laboratories for $90 million in cash, to strengthen its genetic testing and molecular diagnostics business.

—The University of Washington has confirmed what a top commercialization official predicted a year ago—that the university has been awarded $300 million in federal stimulus money. I gathered that fact from a Technology Alliance talk by one of UW’s leading genome scientists, Debbie Nickerson. But she talked in more depth about her “new Corvette”—a $25 million gene-sequencing center that her team hopes will prove it was worth Uncle Sam’s investment.

—I promised myself that I’d avoid cheesy puns like “fledgling” when describing the latest angel investment network in the Northwest, but it can now be said that it is starting to take flight (that’s a little better isn’t it?). This was a story about Wings, the new angel network for medical device investors, which got started at its inaugural meeting yesterday, in which it reviewed business plans of three startups.

—Dendreon had one other nugget of news this week. It hired Varun Nanda as the senior vice president in charge of commercialization of sipuleucel-T (Provenge). Nanda has a ton of experience with cancer drugs, having previously worked at the Genentech unit of Roche. He better be a quick study, because Dendreon is awaiting word from the FDA by May 1 on whether it has the green light to start selling the product.

Fate Therapeutics, the San Diego-based company that counts University of Washington stem cell researcher Randall Moon as a scientific co-founder, is expanding its mini-empire into Canada with the acquisition of Verio Therapeutics.

Liberty Dialysis, a Mercer Island, WA-based company that operates more than 100 dialysis clinics around the U.S., received an undisclosed amount of financing from a group of investors that includes Ignition Partners.

—As the dust settles on healthcare reform, Stewart Lyman helped show readers one of the overlooked elements of the new law that will provide a windfall of tax benefits for biotech companies.

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