Life Science Innovation NW Notes: SeaGen, NanoString, Viket, & More
Fifty years ago at the World’s Fair, Seattle’s visionaries were thinking about exploring space. Today, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation observed, more of the region’s innovators are focused on “terrestrial” matters like global health and biotech.
Whether that’s good or bad for mankind, we can debate another day. But as Jeff Raikes noted in his opening keynote at the Life Science Innovation Northwest conference yesterday, Seattle has a lot of smart people doing high-impact work in world of drug development, vaccines, devices, and diagnostics. About 80 companies had a chance to show their stuff yesterday to an audience of their peers, partners, and investors, providing all kinds of food for thought.
This kind of conference isn’t where news gets made, but it is where the schmoozing and intellectual cross-pollination happens that can lead to news down the road. Here were a few of the people and companies that I watched yesterday, at the beginning of the two-day meeting at the Washington State Convention Center.
—Seattle Genetics CEO Clay Siegall started off the conference with some momentum, talking about brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris), the new drug that combines the targeting ability of an antibody with a toxin to make it more potent. Siegall, who co-founded the company 15 years ago with this kind of dream product in mind, seemed to have a little extra bounce in his step yesterday for what could been a pretty ho-hum corporate update. The product was approved by the FDA last August for a couple of rare lymphomas, and has beaten most people’s sales expectations. Now Seattle Genetics has put together an expansion plan that Siegall says is inspired by Genentech’s work with rituximab (Rituxan), another lymphoma drug that generates about $6 billion a year in worldwide sales.
As was seen with Rituxan, Seattle Genetics is looking to make its drug the mainstay of therapy for patients with earlier forms of disease, for those getting repeat dosing, for people with other cancers that express the CD30 biomarker that Adcetris hits, and for patients around the world. Adcetris—a drug which costs $13,500 a dose, and which is given every three weeks—could end up being a $1 billion a year seller at its peak, Siegall has said. “We envision Adcetris will be a global brand with a big opportunity,” he said yesterday.
At the close of his talk, Siegall had one last slide that could serve as a bit of a challenge to the Seattle biotech community. Of the 26 biotech companies with stock market valuations of $1 billion or more, most of them are in California and the Northeast corridor. Only two are from Seattle—Dendreon and Seattle Genetics. “I want to see more companies in that group,” Siegall said.
—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies showed how it has grown from a company with interesting technology a couple years ago into a company with a truly fast-growing business. CEO Brad Gray talked about how NanoString generated $18 million in revenues in 2011, a 50 percent gain over the prior year. The company figures it has captured about 10 percent of the total potential market for its nCounter instrument, which provides researchers with a digital readout on how genes are expressed in a sample, or how many RNA or microRNA molecules are in a sample. NanoString started by selling its $235,000 instrument to academic researchers, and it is now tapping into new demand from biotech and pharmaceutical companies, Gray said. Each instrument generates about $100,000 a year in sales of special chemical reagents, showing that customers are putting the machine to work, he added. The next big opportunity in NanoString’s sight is the clinical diagnostic market. The challenge will be … Next Page »