Bruce Carter Exits Stage Left, Targeted Genetics Cuts Payroll, OncoGenex Cancer Drug Prolongs Lives, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

The big news of the past couple weeks came before Thanksgiving, when one of Seattle’s biotech pioneers, Bruce Carter, decided to exit stage left. Here is that and other highlights of the past two weeks:

—ZymoGenetics’ charismatic CEO Bruce Carter, 65, has decided to retire at year’s end, and promote Doug Williams to take his place. Carter’s going to stay on as Zymo’s chairman, and serve on the boards of the TB Alliance and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, so local biotechies shouldn’t expect him to vanish.

—Targeted Genetics said it is cutting its payroll by 25 percent, through a combination of seven layoffs, deferring salaries of executives, and cutting some of their pay by half. The Seattle biotech company (NASDAQ: TGEN) is actively shopping some of its assets in a bid to stay alive, with just enough cash to operate into the first quarter of 2009.

—Some bona fide good news emerged this week from OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals, the cancer company with headquarters in Vancouver, BC, and Bothell, WA. It said a mid-stage clinical trial of 82 men with prostate cancer found its experimental drug in combination with standard treatment was able to boost median survival times by 10.6 months when compared to the standard drugs alone. Shares of OncoGenex (NASDAQ: OGXI) rocketed up 75 percent on the news.

—University of Washington epidemiologist Laura Koutsky gave a fascinating talk about the pros and cons of HPV vaccines, as part of the local “Science on Tap” discussion series. Koutsky played a pioneering role in the development of Merck’s Gardasil, and she had a few choice words for the evangelicals who argue that the vaccine encourages young girls to be sexually promiscuous.

—Scout Medical Technologies never did much to blow its own horn, but in a where-are-they-now feature piece, I discovered that this medical device incubator (which no longer exists) gave birth to three successful emerging companies in Seattle. Click here to read updates about its descendants—Archus Orthopedics, EndoGastric Solutions, and Cardiac Dimensions.

—Accelerator, the best-known incubator of life sciences companies on the local scene, unveiled its game plan for its latest creation, GPC-Rx. The company aims to use computer models from Caltech that are supposed to help the company develop all sorts of drugs with fewer side effects than existing meds.

—Redmond, WA-based Spiration promoted Greg Sessler from chief financial officer to chief operating officer. He’ll have his hands full, as Spiration won FDA clearance in October to market its first product, a minimally invasive valve for lung diseases.

—Cell Therapeutics keeps hanging in there. The embattled Seattle biotech company signed a partnership with Spectrum Pharmaceuticals to co-market Zevalin for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and less than a week later, it said the FDA agreed to an accelerated 6-month review of its application to expand the eligible patient population for the drug. None of it matters much to investors, who have written this story off, giving it a stock price of 13 cents.

—Light Sciences Oncology finished enrollment of about 200 patients with liver cancer in a pivotal clinical trial. The Bellevue, WA-based company can now expect to find out whether its drug-device combination therapy for cancer can extend lives, with results expected in 2009.

—The WBBA, the state’s trade group for life sciences companies, hired Chris Rivera to replace Jack Faris as president. Rivera brings a load of experience in commercializing biotech drugs, which certainly won’t hurt local companies trying to get over the hump to become sustainable companies.

—Geospiza, a Seattle-based maker of software for genetic analysis, acquired the Genesifter technology from VizX Labs. This added product offering comes on the heels of a big sale to Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, injecting a little fresh momentum into this survivor of a company.

—Immune Design, the well-heeled vaccine startup run by Steve Reed, negotiated for the rights to some adjuvant technology from the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the nonprofit Reed founded in 1993. Under the deal, Immune Design gets rights to use the technology for diseases of wealthy countries, while IDRI keeps the technology for diseases of the developing world.