ZymoGenetics Gets Upstaged, Calistoga Cancer Drug Matures, Cramer Replaces Kraemer, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

6/11/10Follow @xconomy

This was a big biotech news week with the annual extravaganza for cancer drug developers, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Nobody from Seattle stood out on the world stage this year, although we heard about some people laying important groundwork for future ASCOs.

ZymoGenetics, the granddaddy of Seattle biotech, has had some bad luck the last couple years, and this year’s ASCO meeting was no exception. The company (NASDAQ: ZGEN) presented some promising data on a new treatment for melanoma that has spread through the body, although it was upstaged by a rival drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, one of the relative whippersnappers of Seattle biotech, presented some important data that shows its lead drug candidate is standing up to more rigorous clinical testing. Calistoga showed some intriguing results from the first dozen patients at last year’s ASCO, but this year, the same trend was apparent in a database of more than 100 patients.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) has been on a roll with its “empowered antibody” for Hodgkin’s disease, although the company didn’t really have any groundbreaking scoops at ASCO this year. It presented some preliminary data that suggests its lead candidate might work when used in re-treatment cycles, which is an important thing for doctors who want to know they have options when a patient relapses.

—One of the interesting stories in medical devices this year has been the emergence of a Northwest angel investing network, supported by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, called Wings. The mostly volunteer effort was led by EndoGastric Solutions founder Stefan Kraemer, who is leaving the Northwest for a job at C.R. Bard on the East Coast. But enough pieces were in place in the organization that a seasoned pair of medical device entrepreneurs—Kirby Cramer and Wayne Wager—have stepped in to fill the leadership void.

Asemblon, a Redmond, WA-based developer of organic carrier molecules designed to make hydrogen fuel practical for the trucking industry, has picked up some renewed focus with its new CEO Michael Ramage and a partnership with Los Angeles-based Vision Industries, a hydrogen-powered truckmaker that has caught the eye of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

—Bothell, WA-based Alder Biopharmaceuticals presented data at the ASCO meeting on its novel idea of treating cancer patients not by fighting the tumors, but by tamping down the excess inflammation that makes them feel so miserable. I offered an in-depth profile of this drug in a preview story before the big medical meeting.

AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII), the Bothell, WA-based developer of RNA-based therapies, said it had lined up another contract from Uncle Sam potentially worth $18 million to develop a treatment for pandemic flu.

—Bothell, WA-based Ekos, the developer of ultrasound-based therapies, said it has received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study its treatment for hemorrhagic strokes.

—Xconomy’s life sciences columnist, Sylvia Pagan Westphal, pointed out that in the decade since the genomics bubble burst, a lot of really interesting things are starting to happen again based on our deepening understanding of the genome. It may not show up on a quarterly earnings report yet, but genomics is on the comeback trail, Westphal writes.

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