Amgen Cuts 70 Washington Jobs, Hutch Spins Off Blaze Bioscience, Henney Enters the Hall, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

10/20/11Follow @xconomy

Chronically bad unemployment is the biggest story in the U.S. today, and we had some more bad news about jobs being lost this week in Seattle biotech. But there were a few other good things to report, including a story about a new company being born.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), the Thousand Oaks, CA-based biotech giant, said this week it is cutting 380 jobs companywide from its R&D operations, which includes 70 people at its sites in Seattle and Bothell, WA. The company plans to say more about the cutbacks Monday on its quarterly financial conference call.

—GlaxoSmithKline made big news in Seattle this week at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s malaria forum. The story was about how GSK’s experimental malaria vaccine, supported by the Gates Foundation through the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, was found to protect about half of African children in a Phase III clinical trial. But there’s an elephant in the room about vaccine cost that nobody is really discussing thoroughly in public.

—The latest biotech startup in town has officially spun out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The company, called Blaze Bioscience, has raised its first $725,000 in angel financing and recruited former ZymoGenetics dealmaker Heather Franklin as its CEO. The idea, from the lab of researcher Jim Olson, is to “paint” tumors so that surgeons can make sure they get rid of the whole tumor, and not leave behind straggler cells that can lead to a recurrence.

—I’ve had Immunex on the mind lately as we prep for our next big Xconomy life sciences event, “The Immunex Impact on Dec. 1 in Seattle. Yesterday, I invited Immunoids to bring some old photos and company memorabilia to the event. I also announced the newest addition to the lineup of speakers—Patricia Beckmann. She will join Steve Gillis, Chris Henney, Doug Williams, Stewart Parker and others in this special confab of Immunex alumni. And speaking of Henney, he was honored this week with a biotech “Hall of Fame” award at an annual industry event in Laguna Niguel, CA.

—Bothell, WA-based Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA) has been running low on cash lately, but it found some support this week from a single investor who agreed to put as much as $15 million into the company over time.

—From the medical device side of town, we had a couple stories about companies going in opposite directions. Kirkland, WA-based Pathway Medical Technologies, acquired in August by Bayer’s Medrad unit, has allowed a lease extension option to expire on its headquarters, suggesting that it may not be interested in keeping operations in Seattle. On a more positive note, Redmond, WA-based Mobisante talked about how it has received more than 300 sales leads for its ultrasound-on-a-smartphone, even before it’s really ready to capture much of the market for this low-cost diagnostic tool.

—I know people have heard a lot of song and dance about genomics revolutionizing healthcare, and the reports have been greatly exaggerated to date. But in this week’s BioBeat I took a moment to marvel at the truly amazing kinds of experiments that are now feasible as scientists have learned how to sequence entire human genomes for $4,000 or less, in a matter of weeks. I’m going to explore this further next Monday at our next event in San Francisco, “Computing in the Age of the $1,000 Genome.”

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