Gates Amps Up Biotech Investment, Calypso Seeks Rebound, Targeted Genetics’ Obit, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

3/10/11Follow @xconomy

One of our local billionaires made a couple of significant biotech investments this week, while one of the venerable names from the biotech scene faded away.

—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made its first-ever direct equity investment in a for-profit biotech company last week, when it plunked down $10 million on Research Triangle Park, NC-based Liquidia Technologies. As the foundation’s Doug Holtzman explained to me in an exclusive interview, this deal was crafted to provide maximum flexibility so Liquidia can build out its technology for making vaccines against various scourges of the developing world—instead of being hemmed in to carry out work on one specific project. Separately, my Boston colleague Ryan McBride reported on how Gates personally invested in Cambridge, MA-based Nimbus Discovery, which is seeking to use computer models to improve drug discovery.

—Seattle-based Targeted Genetics is no longer Seattle-based Targeted Genetics. The venerable gene therapy company is now based out of London, goes by the new name AmpliPhi Biosciences, and is primarily focused on anti-bacterial drugs. It’s the end of an era for one of the region’s important companies of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Calypso Medical Technologies looked to be on the cusp of big things when it raised $50 million in venture capital in September 2009, but it was actually going through hard times, as I explained in a feature story this week. The Seattle-based medical device company struggled through a tough couple of years when hospitals were unwilling to spend big bucks for its radiation-pinpointing technology for prostate cancer, although the new CEO says hospitals are feeling more confident about spending now that the federal healthcare reform law has passed and the stock market is up.

—The Seattle-based Institute for Systems Biology struck yet another collaboration this week, this time through a partnership with Covance to study brain tumors. Terms weren’t disclosed.

—About 1,000 people turned out for the big Life Science Innovation Northwest conference last week put together by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association, making this the biggest local biotech event in years—or maybe ever. I didn’t have any one major scoop from this confab, but I put together a half-dozen mini-scoops of new information on small companies presenting at this year’s conference. Here are a few companies that I paid close attention to—PhaseRx, Cardiac Insight, Acqueduct Neurosciences, and Integrated Diagnostics.

—This week’s edition of the BioBeat column, now a regular Monday feature, focused on the state of dysfunction in the IPO market for new biotech companies.

—Lastly, we had a guest editorial from Stewart Lyman about how biotech companies sometimes seek advice for all the wrong reasons. If you don’t already, this post will make you think twice about whether to be impressed when a company brags about how it has a Nobel Laureate or two on its scientific advisory board.

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