Open Source Biology’s Moment, Mirador Advances the Runner, Allen’s Latest Brain Map, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

4/14/11Follow @xconomy

We had an eclectic news mix this week, with features on medical devices, open source biology and an innovation story from the East Side of the Cascades.

Sage Bionetworks, the Seattle-based nonprofit seeking to light a spark for open source biology, is gearing up for its second big annual conference, which is expected to draw more than 200 people to UC San Francisco to talk about how to pull of this ambitious task. I made a case for why it deserves a shot in this week’s BioBeat column.

Versant Ventures‘ Beckie Robertson, a leading medical device investor, made some interesting observations at a WBBA event about four new business models for entrepreneurs seeking to survive arbitrary decisions of the FDA, and cost-based clampdowns from insurers. One of these models, which she called “small ball” is about taking small amounts of capital for smaller opportunities than VCs traditionally like. A few days later, as if on cue, one of these “small ball” companies from Seattle was rewarded with $1.5 million in a Series B financing. Seattle-based Mirador Biomedical won that vote of confidence after it earned FDA approval for a couple devices on a shoestring budget of about $1 million.

—Xconomy’s next big public event is one that straddles a couple of the innovative fields we cover—biotech and cleantech. This event, called “Separating Hype from Reality in Alternative Fuels” will feature a keynote chat I will moderate with Kristina Burow of Arch Venture Partners (a co-founder of San Diego-based Sapphire Energy) and Margaret McCormick, the chief operating officer of Targeted Growth and the CEO of a new startup called Matrix Genetics, which is modifying algae to make it an optimized source of biofuels. The event will be on May 19 in Seattle, so mark your calendars and scoop up a ticket if you are curious about what it will take to wean the world off its addiction to fossil fuels.

—I spent a couple days this week on the other side of the mountains for a speaking engagement at Launchpad Inland Northwest in Spokane. The folks in Spokane made it abundantly clear they want some of the biotech action they see in Seattle, and one of the key ways to they want to make it happen is through building out a medical school. We’ll see if this idea makes it through our cash-strapped legislature, but the folks in Spokane are buzzing about the possibility.

—The Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Seattle-based nonprofit research center founded by billionaire Paul Allen, made a big splash this week when it publicly released the first genomic and anatomical human brain map. One of the key early findings was that two adult human brains were found to be about 94 percent similar. Scientists are surely going to learn a lot more in the months and years to come.

Kineta, the Seattle-based drug developer, said this week it scored a $1 million contract extension from the National Institutes of Health to mine existing databases to find new molecular targets and drug candidates. This project is being done in collaboration with the University of Washington, University of Oregon, UC Irvine, and the University of Utah.

—Lastly, my colleague Curt chimed in with some short sketches on startups that appeared at the First Look Forum organized by the Northwest Entrepreneur Network. This event covered the gamut of innovative industries, but the winner came from the biotech world. As Curt put it, Guide Analytics is a mobile-connected bracelet and monitoring system that keeps track of edema, a swelling that can lead to hospitalizations, particularly in heart patients. This company is led by Deborah Kessler, a veteran of Merck/Rosetta Inpharmatics.

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