Amgen Mulls R&D Cuts, Thong Le Named WBBA Chairman, NanoString’s Version 2.0, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

10/13/11Follow @xconomy

The Seattle biotech community got an energetic new leader this week, but there was also some more grim news about budget cuts coming at one of the biggest local life sciences employers.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), the Thousand Oaks, CA-based biotech giant, is looking to “improve focus” and “re-allocate resources” in its $2.9 billion R&D budget, according to a company spokeswoman. The company will have more to say in its quarterly earnings report on Oct. 24. Sounds like there will be some long days of grim speculation for the people at Amgen’s Seattle R&D operation.

—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies rolled out the next-generation version of its genetic analysis instrument at a big scientific conference in Montreal. The new tool is supposed to be able to churn out 50 percent more data, and it’s paired with a more flexible software program. The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, one of the world’s leading centers for genomics research, has signed on as the first customer for the Version 2.0 tool from NanoString.

—For the first time, I made an early morning call to Iceland for a story. This was to talk with Kari Stefansson, the prominent geneticist and CEO of deCODE Genetics. The company made the news this week by announcing by announcing a partnership with Pfizer to look for new lupus drug targets. The Seattle angle here is that Arch Venture Partners and its indefatigable managing director Bob Nelsen helped rescue deCODE from bankruptcy in 2010 in a wager that deCODE could thrive in the era of ultra-fast, ultra-cheap gene sequencing.

—Seattle-based Qliance Medical Management, the company that provides direct primary care services on a monthly subscription basis, said this week it has done some management shuffling. Co-founder Erika Bliss, a primary care physician, is stepping up to become president and CEO, while co-founder Norm Wu is stepping aside to serve as a “strategic advisor” working on partnerships. Qliance probably has the investment syndicate with the highest television Q-rating in town—Jeff Bezos, Drew Carey, Michael Dell, and Nick Hanauer are among its backers.

—This week in BioBeat, I offered up a list of five things that the pharmaceutical industry could (and should) do to help the FDA reform itself and restore public confidence in the agency. There are some good comments piling up at the bottom of this story, and you’re always welcome to add your own two cents there.

Thong Le, the well-wired venture investor at WRF Capital, is going to take on a higher profile in the community next month when he becomes chairman of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Le is replacing Tom Clement, the founder of Pathway Medical Technologies, who is now working to get a couple new startups off the ground—Aqueduct Neurosciences and Cardiac Insight.

Drew McUsic, a University of Washington graduate student in bioengineering, offered up his view of the opportunity for biotech startups in the world of stem cell R&D. This post was based on a WBBA event in which officials from Geron and Fate Therapeutics offered their view from the trenches.

—Lastly, we had a guest post for the biotech crowd inspired by the life of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who died last week at 56. Christopher Bowe, a healthcare analyst with Informa, sees some lessons in Jobs’ life that might be healthy for a life sciences industry that’s starving for some really exciting new innovations.

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