The weather is great in Seattle, the tourists are here. It must be time to invite folks in for a biotech conference.
The local biotech community came together yesterday at the Washington State Convention Center for its biggest annual gathering, Life Science Innovation Northwest. Steve Burrill came and gave his usual healthcare world overview talk in 130 slides (but, hey, who’s counting). Lots of familiar faces from the Northwest biotech community came together with a lot of out-of-town guests for some networking, and a bunch of little companies got a chance to show their stuff in public. Day 2 of the conference is today.
I didn’t hear much in the way of big breaking news, but here are a few updates and observations from local companies:
Alder Biopharmaceuticals: The Bothell, WA-based biotech company had a couple programs to talk about. First was its anti-migraine drug, ALD403, an antibody designed to hit a target called calcitonin-related gene peptide (CGRP). The company passed an initial human safety study last year, and has recently completed enrollment in a mid-stage trial designed to find out whether the drug really works—measured by a reduction in the number of migraine headaches for patients who get a lot of them. Alder raised $38 million in venture capital about 15 months ago largely to push this program ahead, so there will be a lot of interest in seeing the results of this study, which are expected later this year, says CEO Randy Schatzman.
The other Alder program to watch is clazukizumab (formerly known as ALD518), the drug for autoimmune diseases developed in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb. Some key results from a mid-stage ‘proof of concept’ study are expected to be presented in October at the American College of Rheumatology meeting, Schatzman said. But he repeated his line about how he believes this drug, which inhibits IL-6, can stand up quite well against the TNF inhibitors and JAK inhibitors.
Omeros (NASDAQ: OMER): The Seattle company has a whole lot of things going on under one roof, especially for a small biotech worth less than $150 million. There are anti-inflammatory combo drugs for surgeons, targeted antibodies, a G-protein coupled receptor target discovery program, and phosphodiesterase (PDE)-directed small molecule programs for neurological disorders.
Those programs are at various stages in the R&D continuum, and most of them are still early. But Omeros does have a news hook coming, as CEO Greg Demopulos said the company plans to file formal paperwork to seek FDA approval of OMS302 “in the coming weeks.” That’s the two-drug combo that matches an anti-inflammatory with a pupil-dilating agent to assist doctors during surgery to fix cataracts, or do what’s called a refractive lens exchange. If the drug passes muster with the FDA, it will be Omeros’ first product cleared for sale, and will provide revenue it can plow into its portfolio of other product candidates. Demopulos said he envisions building “a pipeline in perpetuity for Omeros.”
Adaptive Biotechnologies: The Seattle-based company, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is in the midst of raising a new round of financing, said CEO Chad Robins. The company has been on a roll, having formed partnerships with big drugmakers like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, and Biogen Idec, who are looking to use Adaptive’s immune system profiling technology to help select patients who are likely to respond to certain drugs in clinical trials. Adaptive, which also generates revenue from selling its service to academic researchers, is looking to pull in $20 million to help it turn this technology into a series of profitable diagnostic tests. It just so happens that Adaptive’s top competitor, South San Francisco-based Sequenta, raised its own $20 million financing round earlier this month.
Aqueduct Neurosciences: This startup, led by medical device entrepreneur Tom Clement, provided an update on its technology for the treatment of neurological disorders that come up from buildup of fluid in the brain, such as hydrocephalus. The existing technology, shunts that drain the fluid, have been around for decades and often fail by clogging up and forcing patients to undergo multiple surgeries. Without going into much detail, Clement said Aqueduct is developing technology to monitor the pressure building up around the shunt, so the doctor in a remote location can tell whether the patient has an issue in need of treatment.
Lastly, I had the great pleasure of serving as the emcee for the closing reception yesterday, as the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association honored six “Women to Watch.” This was a fun way to end the day, giving some credit where credit is due, and doing it in style as part of a performance of “Jimi Helix and the Pipettes.” (Pictured above). Here’s who took home the hardware:
Heather Franklin, Blaze Bioscience
Kristen Lloyd Helton, Profusa
Adina Mangubat, Spiral Genetics
Katrina Mealey, Washington State University
Lisa Shaffer, Paw Print Genetics
Elaine Scott, University of Washington-Bothell