This was the week that one of the mainstays of Seattle biotech, after a dozen years, confirmed that it has developed its first drug with real commercial legs.
—Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN), the company mentioned above, released some truly remarkable data from the pivotal trial of its “empowered antibody” for Hodgkin’s disease. This drug, brentuximab vedotin, only needed to help shrink tumors in about 30 percent of patients who were the sickest of sick, in order to be good enough for the company to seek FDA approval. The drug completely or partially shrank tumors in 75 percent of the patients, with mild side effects like those seen in early clinical trials. The trial design was cleared in advance by the FDA, so Seattle Genetics is now on an all-out push to seek FDA clearance to start marketing this drug sometime in the first half of 2011.
—The same morning as the big news from Seattle Genetics, Acucela had an interesting new deal to talk about with its Japan-based partner, Otsuka Pharmaceutical. Under this deal, Seattle-based Acucela has obtained the option to co-develop and co-promote a new drug from Otsuka for glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness. Acucela will pay nothing upfront, and Otsuka will essentially hire Acucela to run the early clinical development, which means that Acucela will continue to be that rarest of birds—a profitable biotech company with no marketed products.
—Here’s some good news for melanoma patients, but which might carry a bittersweet aftertaste for the shareholders and employees of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics. One of Zymo’s experimental drugs, IL-21 for metastatic melanoma, helped some very sick patients live an impressive median time of 12.4 months in a clinical trial of 40 patients. This is one of the lesser-known assets that Bristol-Myers Squibb will be scooping up if it can complete its acquisition of ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ: ZGEN) for $9.75 a share, or about $885 million.
—Calistoga Pharmaceuticals had what looked like a run-of-the-mill personnel announcement this week, but which actually could be a sign of interesting things to come. Calistoga hired a seasoned public company chief financial officer, Andrew Guggenhime, to be its new finance chief. CEO Carol Gallagher has said in the past that she’s laying the groundwork for a potential IPO, and if Calistoga follows through with this, it will need someone with a Wall Street Rolodex like Guggenhime’s to gin up some demand for its shares.
—Lastly, we found an interesting Seattle biotech connection to one of the companies we cover in Michigan. Kalamazoo, MI-based Pronai Therapeutics, a developer of DNA interference drugs, is leaning on technology from Bothell, WA-based Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA) to deliver its DNA-silencing drugs where they need to go inside cells.