Dendreon Makes History, Microsoft Tries Open-Source Biology, an OVP IPO Is Brewing, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News
This week, my Mom wrote to say she saw a Seattle biotech company featured on ABC’s World News Tonight. That may be a first in the nine years I’ve been writing about this business. So yes, this was a big week.
—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) made history, and the TV network evening news, when it won FDA approval for the first treatment designed to actively stimulate a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. The drug, sipuleucel-T (Provenge) is for men with terminal prostate cancer that has spread through the body, and no longer responds to standard hormone deprivation treatment.
—The FDA approval of Provenge has big implications for a number of different constituencies. It means that we the taxpayers, and private insurance premium-payers, are going to shell out $93,000 for each patient who gets this treatment. Patients may be willing to pay the price since many can expect to live a few months longer without nasty side effects, but that’s only if they get the drug. Only 2,000 will be able to get the treatment in the first year because of Dendreon’s limited factory capacity. Still, the sales potential has enabled Dendreon to go on a hiring binge, and sign a letter of intent on a new waterfront headquarters that will make it Seattle’s next biotech anchor tenant. And last, but not least, the FDA green light created a stock market boom that enabled CEO Mitchell Gold to personally cash out with more than $26 million in stock sales.
—We are almost ready for the big Xconomy event on May 12 that will dig into the latest innovation in health IT. There are still a few tickets left to hear from this stellar group we’ve assembled, including Stephen Friend, Don Listwin, Rod Hochman, David Cerino, Chad Waite, and more. This event will be at the super-cool Frye Art Museum, which has the distinction of being within shouting distance of Xconomy Seattle’s headquarters on First Hill. (Actually, we usually just e-mail the good folks over there.)
—What is Microsoft doing in health IT? There are a lot of different things happening over in the Health Solutions Group, but in Microsoft Research, there’s a different idea called Microsoft Biology Foundation. It’s an open-source platform the software giant is building in the hopes that bioinformatics labs will build their own specialized apps on top of it. The underlying platform could also serve as an “on-ramp” to a program that Microsoft wants to sell to biologists, Amalga Life Sciences.
—Health IT, and its close cousin Bio-IT, can be such a sprawling topic that it can sometimes be hard to even clearly articulate the problems. I had a chance to hear from a trio of big thinkers on this subject at the annual OVP Tech Summit in Seattle. Lee Hood talked about regulatory barriers, Ed Lazowska bemoaned the fragmentation of computing centers at companies and universities, and Larry Smarr cited the difficulty of getting biologists, physicians, and computer scientists to pool all their talents in a productive way.
—Sometimes when people ramble along in a PowerPoint presentation, I check my BlackBerry a few times out of boredom, then jump to action when the speaker lets loose some new information. That happened at the OVP Tech Summit when managing director Gerry Langeler talked about how an IPO is in the works at one of the firm’s companies; how VLST has inked a second pharmaceutical industry partner in addition to Novo Nordisk; and that stealthy Allozyne’s clinical trials are going well. Langeler wouldn’t say which company is teed up to go public, but the obvious bet would be on Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics, the company that’s ushering in the era in which scientists will sequence entire human genomes for $5,000 or less.
—Bothell, WA-based SonoSite (NASDAQ: SONO) formed a deal with another local medical device leader, Physio-Control in Redmond. The deal calls for Physio-Control’s sales reps to help pitch SonoSite’s ultrasound diagnostic tools to emergency medicine workers. Terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.
—Carl Weissman, a managing director with OVP and the CEO of Seattle-based Accelerator, wrote an editorial for the launch of Xconomy’s new Detroit website about what Michigan can do to maximize its life sciences research base to become more of a commercial biotech hub. He leads with a bold statement that Seattle is the No. 3 biotech hub in the country behind the clear leaders in Boston and San Francisco. If you have a different view on this, you’re always welcome to leave a comment at the bottom of the story. I personally think San Diego is quite a bit ahead of Seattle as a biotech cluster, but that’s just me.
—If you’re looking around for signs of life in the economy, the Husky Union Ballroom was a good place to start last week. That’s where I served as a judge for the UW’s 13th annual Business Plan Competition. I saw a really impressive variety of young global citizens tackling global problems in IT, biotech, and clean energy here in Seattle. I will be watching to see which of these teams can get enough momentum to get that critical seed funding to pursue their dreams.