Immune Design Gets New CEO, Seattle Biomed Nabs $9M, VCs Turn Up Heat on FDA, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

4/28/11Follow @xconomy

This week we had a couple of notable personnel moves, a big clinical trial result for a drug with local roots, and some sobering commentary about how this crazy biotech business keeps getting harder by the day.

—Seattle-based Immune Design, the developer of new vaccine technology, hired a big fish to be its new CEO. Carlos Paya, the former president of Ireland-based Elan, is taking over from founding CEO Steve Reed, who will keep working with the company and juggle his other responsibilities at the Infectious Disease Research Institute. Bruce Carter remains as executive chairman.

Seattle Biomedical Research Institute secured another big new grant of $8.9 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support some systems biology-style research which ought to help speed up the hunt for a new malaria vaccine.

—This week’s edition of the BioBeat column talked about how quite a few VCs from around the country are mobilizing in Washington, DC, to put pressure on the FDA to get faster and more predictable, especially in the review of new medical devices. Normally I’d pay little attention to this sort of self-serving rhetoric, but in this case, the FDA has made some public statements that suggest it is listening to the critics who say its risk-averse stance is forcing medical device companies and jobs to go overseas.

Acucela, the Seattle-based developer of drugs for eye diseases, hired a new chief financial officer, David Lowrance, who was previously the CFO at Nashville, TN-based Cumberland Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CPIX). Sort of makes me wonder if Acucela could have some bigger plans up its sleeve, which require the services of a CFO with public company experience.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) made some news last week that investors mostly ignored, but I’m sure generated a lot of chatter in these parts. The company said its AMG-785 drug for osteoporosis met its goal of improving bone mineral density for post-menopausal women, in a study of 400 patients. Key early work on this program was done at what used to be known as Celltech R&D in Bothell, WA—and many of the key people who did that are now at Alder Biopharmaceuticals. Most Amgen investors are fixated on the FDA-approved osteoporosis drug denosumab, but researchers are keeping very close tabs on AMG-785, Amgen has said.

Sean Tunis, the former chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, offered up some plain talk this week about how biotech companies today have to think about proving their products are not just safe and effective, but how they will also lower healthcare costs. Tunis was in town this week for a WBBA event to deliver this sobering message, about how life sciences entrepreneurship has gotten harder in the new era of cost controls.

—Lastly, we had a thought-provoking guest post from Todd Smith, the founder of Seattle-based Geospiza, about how scientists need to change their culture to make big discoveries that improve healthcare. This was written after Smith attended the Sage Commons Congress, organized by Seattle-based Sage Bionetworks.

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