Presage Biosciences, the Fred Hutch Spinoff, Adds CEO, Angel Bucks, Big Pharma Customers

6/23/10Follow @xconomy

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is doing, and its customers are Big Pharma and biotech companies. The company offers a fee-for-service arrangement that allows them to test a variety of new cancer drugs in mice.

That might sound ordinary, because drugs are tested in mice all the time, but nothing like the way Presage does it. The company has developed a device with five needles that have holes along the sides. As I described back in March, these needles can deliver five different kinds of chemotherapy drugs-or combinations of an experimental biotech treatment-to different localized regions of the tumor. The drugs are made to seep out within a small radius of the needle, so researchers can see how different regions of the same tumor respond to different drugs in their native environment in a head-to-head comparison. That’s different from other experiments in which one drug gets tested in one mouse, and scientists can’t really see how that individual mouse might respond differently to a different drug in real-time.

Presage isn’t identifying its customers, who often don’t want their competitors to know what new tools they are using. But Caffo says one customer has anted up for three different projects, while a second customer has one project, and a third contract is close to being signed. Presage structures these deals so its customer gets exclusive use of the technology for a narrow indication, like, say, a certain form of pancreatic cancer (my example, not theirs). The strategy is not to carpet-bomb the whole pharmaceutical industry, but to form deep bonds with a small number of repeat customers, Caffo says. “We want them to get addicted to it,” he says.

While Presage is still a startup, having those pharma contracts, and a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop the technology, means that it is in stronger financial shape than most biotechs that seek to develop drugs. The company’s plan is to turn profitable by mid-2011, and at the moment anyway, it is ahead of schedule, Cameron says.

With revenue coming in from customers, from the NIH, and investors, Presage could choose to spend a fair bit, but they sure look to be operating lean. The company’s new lab space, which they moved into yesterday, is in a new building downstairs from Novo Nordisk and NanoString Technologies. Still, they negotiated with the landlord to get only as much space as the team of six needs at the moment, which could be expanded over time. The office only had folding wooden chairs to sit on, a few boxes that are still unpacked on the lab benches, and some like-new lab equipment that was purchased second-hand from biotech companies that ran into hard times in the downturn, Caffo says.

So far, Presage has been able to build its momentum partly because of the people it has been able to attract. Richard Klinghoffer, the vice president of biology, is one of them, a former research fellow at Merck’s Rosetta operation until that closed down. Klinghoffer noted that he’s been able to hand-pick a few of his best early hires, largely because Seattle is a small biotech community where people know each other, but also because not a lot of other places are hiring at the moment.

“It’s really a great time to be building a company,” Klinghoffer says.

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