Kleiner Perkins’ Bet on a Concrete Stomach, The Gates Foundation’s Out-of-the-Box Ideas, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

5/5/11Follow @xconomy

We had a grab bag of life sciences-related coverage this week, with a big device company acquisition, some wild ideas for global health, and a whole lot of focus on biofuels.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers never has done much investing in the Northwest from what I can tell, but this week I came across a quiet company in South Lake Union that the fabled VC firm built to help convert organic waste into clean-burning natural gas. The big idea at this company, called Harvest Power, is to develop what you could call a giant concrete stomach.

—While biofuel entrepreneurs are brimming with enthusiasm about weaning the world off fossil fuels, I thought it would be helpful to get a bit of a reality check from a top local scientist who’s been thinking hard about this problem—Nitin Baliga of the Institute for Systems Biology. Baliga will also provide some brief welcoming remarks at the next Xconomy Seattle event on May 19, titled “Separating Hype from Reality in Alternative Fuels.”

—This week, I spent a fair bit of time recruiting new speakers to flesh out the agenda for the event mentioned above. The new additions, who will each provide 4-minute “burst” talks about their approach to alternative fuels, are Kelly Ogilvie of Blue Marble Energy, Hoby Douglass of General Biodiesel, and Jeff Surma of S4 Energy Solutions.

—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) came out with its first-quarter earnings report, and there were no big surprises. The company hit its forecast for sales in the first three months, has started scaling up sales in April now that it has more available manufacturing capacity, and reiterated that it plans to sell $350 million to $400 million worth of sipuleucel-T (Provenge) for prostate cancer patients in 2011.

—One of the big dreams in biofuels is that someday we’ll have open ponds in the desert, full of fast-dividing algae that are genetically modified to spit out the maximal amount of oil. Ned David of Arch Venture Partners has pushed that idea forward as a co-founder of Sapphire Energy, but a couple years into that endeavor, he realized he needed to capture a whole heck of a lot of carbon dioxide from the air in order to feed the algae at companies like Sapphire. The result is his latest startup, Kilimanjaro Energy, which I profiled this week.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) got a big date to circle on the calendar—August 30. That’s when the FDA has agreed to complete its review of the company’s application to start marketing brentuximab vedotin (SGN-35) in the U.S. The agency agreed to a faster-than-usual six-month review schedule for this drug because of its groundbreaking potential against a couple deadly forms of cancer.

—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has taken some flack for its approach to funding big science ideas in the past, which some contended was too heavily weighted toward big-money, long-term projects. The foundation has sought ways to make a bigger impact by tilting more of its research portfolio to really early-stage, out-of-the-box proposals that get $100,000 to sink or swim, which discovery director Chris Wilson explained in our interview.

Considering a career in biotech? I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to encourage young people to dive in, as you can see in this week’s BioBeat. The action is clearly in computer science, and unless something pretty dramatic happens in government research funding, or pharma/biotech business models, it looks like it will stay that way for quite some time.

—Seattle-based Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY) pulled in more than $40 million in a new stock financing. This will provide a lot more fuel for the company to pursue development of the cancer drugs in its pipeline other than Stimuvax, the immune-booster that is being developed in partnership with Merck KGaA.

GE Healthcare made a pretty sizable acquisition last week when it took over Issaquah, WA-based Applied Precision. The local operation, which has 130 employees, makes super high resolution microscopes with software and data visualization tools for biomedical researchers.

—Lastly, Vancouver, BC-based Indel Therapeutics reported that it raised $1.4 million in a Series B financing to support its development of new antibiotics. Things have been pretty quiet lately on the financing front—makes me wonder if there are some big ones in the works.

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  • Bill

    Your memory is short. Kleiner has alwasys been reasonably active in Seattle. Kleiner is in Lockerz, reported by your site, AltaRock, Verdiem, etc. Kleiner was also an early investor in Amazon and Blue Nile.