Seattle Genetics’ Dark Horse, Gilead Beats Novartis, Oncothyreon Back in the Saddle, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

6/24/10Follow @xconomy

Summertime may be officially here, but we are a long way from the dog days. This week, the Seattle biotech desk had reports on cancer drugs, drug discovery tools, and antibiotics, as well as a few sharp guest editorials.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) has generated a lot of buzz about its drug candidate, an “empowered antibody” for Hodgkin’s disease. But a lesser-known drug candidate, a more traditional “naked” antibody that hits tumor cells without packing an extra toxic payload, is also nearing a key turning point in which the company will learn whether it can help leukemia patients live longer.

—Quite a bit has happened in the last few months at Presage Biosciences, a Seattle-based spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The company topped off a $4 million angel investment round, hired a new CEO, and has found a couple paying customers from Big Pharma that are using its technology to help sift out the winners from the losers in cancer drug development.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), the Foster City, CA-based company with significant operations in Seattle, said that its inhalable antibiotic for cystic fibrosis beat a competing drug from Novartis in a head-to-head study. This trial compared patients who mostly had three prior cycles of the Novartis drug and who were getting a fourth round, or a new round of the Gilead drug. The Gilead drug, originally developed by Corus Pharma in Seattle, won FDA approval in February.

—Seattle-based Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY) was able to breathe a sigh of relief late last week. The company said its partner, Germany-based Merck KGaA, was cleared to re-start two of three pivotal trials of an immune-boosting treatment for cancer called Stimuvax that was first developed at Oncothyreon.

—A familiar face to many local biotechies, Tom Ranken, is taking on a new challenge as the first full-time CEO of the Washington Clean Technology Alliance. This may seem like déjà vu for Ranken, who in the mid-90s, took the helm of a loosely affiliated trade association at the time, the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, and made it into a much bigger organization with more impact for the local life sciences industry.

—The Vancouver, BC, biotech cluster had a big financing to report last week. Aquinox Pharmaceuticals pocketed $25 million in a Series B venture round to advance its drug candidates against cancer and inflammatory diseases.

—We had a flurry of guest editorials built around life sciences themes. The first was from Thong Le of WRF Capital, who contends that Silicon Valley needs to invest in truly innovative people and companies if it wants to be a more stable hub. Next was a piece from Dan Vorhaus, well known as @genomicslawyer on Twitter, with a piece on how consumer genetics needs more transparency instead of heavy-handed regulation. And, we had a post from WBBA chief Chris Rivera on how biotech must have more capital, more talent, and predictable regulations to thrive. Thanks to all for your contributions, and anyone else who wants to chime in, shoot me a note at ltimmerman@xconomy.com.

—Last, but not least, we had some good news around the Xconomy Seattle office this week. I’m happy to introduce our newest team member, Thea Chard, who is covering all kinds of technology here in the Northwest. She is replacing the co-founder of this bureau, Greg Huang, who is moving to run Xconomy’s editorial shop in Boston. Greg will continue to cover national themes in IT, so his byline will still appear from time to time on these pages.

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