Theraclone Sniffs Around for $10M, Dendreon Gets Third Factory OK, Zymeworks’ Big Merck Deal, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

9/8/11Follow @xconomy

This being a short week, I’m reaching back for two weeks’ worth of headlines, especially since a lot of readers are just getting back from vacation.

—Seattle’s Theraclone Sciences picked up some national recognition this week by being named one of the Fierce 15 emerging life sciences companies by FierceBiotech. Acting CEO Steve Gillis told the newsletter that the company is looking to raise another $10 million, and then add a permanent CEO.

—Bothell, WA-based Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA) came back from the holiday weekend to announce some serious shuffling in its management team. Marina has seen its RNA interference technology fall out of favor among prospective Big Pharma partners over the past year, while its cash balance has run low.

—Vancouver, BC-based Zymeworks, the developer of “bi-specific” antibodies that can specifically hit more than one target on cells, struck a partnership with pharmaceutical giant Merck that could be worth $187 million over time. Zymeworks CEO Ali Tehrani talked about how the company has shifted its focus from making industrial enzymes in its early days to its new bet on pharmaceuticals.

—Seattle-based Amnis, the maker of high-speed cell imaging instruments for researchers, said it agreed to be acquired by EMD Millipore, the Billerica, MA-based unit of Germany’s Merck KGaA. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Amnis said in a statement it generated $14 million in sales in 2010, and has maintained an 80 percent compound annual growth rate since 2005. Amnis said the deal will enable it to accelerate its growth.

—This being the opening week of the NFL season, I thought it would be fun to apply some fantasy football analysis to the latest installment of BioBeat. If you know of some sleeper picks, or various overrated or underrated players in biotech, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

—I announced the full lineup of speakers who will be part of the “Computing in the Age of the $1,000 Genome” event Xconomy is planning for Oct. 24 in San Francisco. This event is modeled after a similar conference we did in Seattle in February, and the agenda includes a few prominent Seattleites, including EMC/Isilon’s Sujal Patel, PerkinElmer’s Rob Arnold, Life Technologies’ Tim Hunkapiller, Ingenuity Systems’ Doug Bassett, and Microsoft’s Jim Karkanias.

—Seattle-based Qliance Medical Management, the provider of primary care clinics that operate on monthly fees instead of health insurance, said it is opening two new clinics in Tacoma, WA and Mill Creek, WA.

Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) has had a rough few weeks, but it did have one piece of good news when it said the FDA approved the third and final manufacturing facility for sipuleucel-T (Provenge). Now if Dendreon can iron out its problems with reimbursement, it should be able to dial up production at its factories. But today at 1:30 pm Pacific, another shoe will drop. Dendreon said yesterday it plans to announce details on the restructuring and layoff plan that it hinted at last month when it said it will miss its 2011 sales forecast.

—Last week’s BioBeat column revisited a Fortune expose about Pfizer, and raised the question of ‘how big is too big?‘ when it comes to innovation in life sciences. I know a lot of people wish we had more of a Big Pharma presence here in Seattle, but maybe this is one of those cases where we should be thankful we have small companies instead.

—Lastly, we had another sharp guest post from Stewart Lyman on how drug discovery is even harder than rocket science. If you are someone who finds it hard to explain biotech basics to your Mom and Dad, this is not a bad place to start.

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