UW Scores $40M for Biofuels, Cocrystal’s Fight Against HepC, The Women’s Biotech Network, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

9/29/11Follow @xconomy

We had an unusual mix of headlines this week on RNA interference, biofuels, and a quiet little startup in Bothell with Icos pedigree.

—There weren’t any major life science company financings to report this week, but the state’s academic centers had something to crow about with $80 million in new federal grants going to the University of Washington and Washington State University. The money is intended to help scientists find ways to turn lots of our regional biomass into renewable fuels, and hopefully create a few jobs along the way.

—I’m trying an experiment next week with a “Tweetchat” with one of the industry leaders in the field of RNA interference—John Maraganore of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. For those of you interested in RNAi, and who have Twitter accounts, this will be a good opportunity. It will start at 10 am Pacific on October 4th, and go for about 30 minutes. The idea is to have an open conversation about where this whole gene-silencing business is going after a series of well-documented setbacks. For those of you not on Twitter, but interested in sending a question in to Maraganore, shoot me an e-mail. There is no shortage of interest in RNAi here in the Northwest, with Seattle-based PhaseRx, Bothell, WA-based Marina Biotech, Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, Vancouver, BC-based Alcana Therapeutics, and Seattle-based Groove Biopharma all working on various pieces of the puzzle.

Cocrystal Discovery, led by a couple former Icosahedrons in Gary Wilcox and Sam Lee, has kept a pretty low profile its first three years in business. But that’s starting to change now that this company struck a new partnership with Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical, and Wilcox gave me the inside scoop on what this team is setting out to do with antiviral drugs against hepatitis C, flu, and more.

—Adaptive TCR, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, named a few familiar local biotech names to its roster of various advisors. Lee Huntsman of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund has joined Adaptive’s board of directors; Cassian Yee of the Hutch has been added to the scientific advisory board; and Carol Gallagher (formerly of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals) and Stewart Parker of the Infectious Disease Research Institute have been named to the startup’s corporate advisory board. Adaptive, for those just tuning in to this story, is using the tools of modern DNA sequencing and computing to help scientists better understand how DNA get shuffled around in B and T cells that make up our adaptive immune systems.

—We had a lot of perspective this week on what it’s like for women in biotech—not something I’ve written much about here the past three years. This week in BioBeat I talked about what looks like a potent new force for closing the gender gap in biotech—a new all-female networking group called Women in Bio. Coincidentally, we also had a guest post from Lisa Suennen, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, who talked about another women-dominated biotech event she recently attended in the Bay Area.

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