Socializing at WBBA: Tom Ranken’s Surprise, Insilicos Goes In Vivo, and Cleantechs to Watch in the Tri-Cities

Xconomy Seattle — 

Last night I rode my bike down from our First Hill office to Lake Union Park to mingle with some biotechies. This year, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association’s annual Summer Social was tucked inside the Naval Reserve Building, although the way the West-facing windows let in so much early evening sunlight, it was almost like being outdoors.

There were lots of familiar faces to me, having covered the local biotech scene for five years at The Seattle Times, but also a lot of unfamiliar faces—younger ones, too. The attendance figure I gathered from WBBA’s Kathleen Poston was around 300, pretty darn good for a sunny Thursday evening in July.

Here’s a quick rundown from some of the interesting people I met:

Tom Ranken. The former president of WBBA, now with Xactagen (gotta love a company name that starts with X), just finished an interesting project. He interviewed local entrepreneurs about why more biotech startups haven’t been formed in the region in the last few years. One surprising conclusion: the University of Washington’s Technology Transfer office isn’t nearly as big a roadblock as it once was. “Five years ago, people (in industry) were rabid about tech transfer. That’s not really the case anymore,” Ranken says.

Jane Shaw. The well-connected and always fashionably bespectacled trade commissioner from the Canadian Consulate’s office reminded me to connect with our neighbors to the Nnorth. Ken Galbraith, a former executive at the Vancouver, BC-based biotechs QLT and AnorMED, now a general partner with Ventures West, is said to have his finger on the pulse of life sciences there. I sense a road trip in the future!

Erik Nilsson. The president of Seattle-based Insilicos has sharpened up his elevator pitch since I last saw him. “We can measure HDL (good cholesterol), and we can measure LDL (bad cholesterol), but we don’t really have a simple blood test that can tell if you have cardiovascular disease.” His company, naturally, is working on such a test, and expects data from its first clinical trial to be published in a couple months, probably in the journal Circulation.

Neile Grayson. The former business executive at Sonus Pharmaceuticals has teamed up with another Sonus refugee, Richard Daifuku, to start a clinical trials/drug development strategy consulting business called Phase1two3. Everyone involved with Sonus is still a bit “shocked” at how the company’s lead cancer drug candidate flamed out last September, she says.

Rob Carlson. Here’s a new face, though I didn’t actually meet him. He was recommended by Richard Gayle, founder of, when I asked Gayle who was the most interesting person he met for the first time at last night’s event. Carlson, who has a doctorate in physics from Princeton, recently left the UW to form a startup called Biodesic that, among other things, is working on technology to make it easier to detect proteins in the blood.

Gary Spanner. The economic development manager from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA, mentioned two innovative companies spinning off from the lab. Infinia, an alternative-energy company backed by notables like Khosla Ventures and Vulcan Capital is one; the other is InEnTec, which cut a deal last fall with Dow Corning to recycle hazardous waste.