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Amgen Tries to “Personalize” Drug, VLST Snags Deal, Tobacco Money Backs Research, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

Many life sciences shut down operations between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so obviously they need to cram a lot of work into weeks like the last one. Here’s a rundown of the big news.

—Amgen, the giant biotech with about 1,000 employees in Washington, went before an FDA advisory panel to make an unusual case. It wants permission to market its colorectal cancer drug for fewer patients, because data suggests it might work better in a subgroup of patients with a certain genetic profile. The FDA panel said the data’s not up to snuff, but more trials are ongoing to prove this point, so the story’s not over.

—Seattle-based VLST inked an important drug discovery partnership with Novo Nordisk, the Danish pharma company that is the world’s largest maker of insulin for diabetes. Under the deal, VLST gets $12 million in upfront payments and an equity investment, in exchange for granting Novo right of first refusal to develop some of its most promising drug candidates for autoimmune diseases. More milestone payments will flow to VLST if Novo opts in.

—The state’s Life Science Discovery Fund doled out another round of grants worth almost $19 million. This money will go toward vaccine research, improved delivery of biotech drugs into cells, helping resuscitate people with sudden cardiac arrest, and rural mental health services.

—OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals emerged from obscurity a couple weeks ago when it released data that its prostate cancer drug candidate prolonged lives in a clinical trial, and investors are catching on. The company, based in Vancouver, BC, and Bothell, WA, was the single best performer on the Nasdaq in the week ended Dec. 12.

—Seattle-based Northstar Neuroscience, a maker of an electrical stimulation device for severe depression, got a public dressing-down by RA Capital, a Boston-based hedge fund. RA argues that since investors value its cash balance more than its technology, it ought to just liquidate.

—Uptake Medical, a Seattle-based maker of a minimally invasive technique to treat emphysema, raised $3 million in venture capital to help it finish a couple of clinical trials in Australia and Germany. All existing investors chose to re-up.

—Xconomy hosted its first event in Seattle, focused on the emerging opportunities to develop vaccines. If you couldn’t make it out on a cold December night, here’s a recap of what panelists Todd Patrick, Steve Reed, Chris Elias, and Denise Galloway had to say.

—ZymoGenetics CEO Bruce Carter, former Targeted Genetics chief Stewart Parker, and Gilead Sciences executive Bruce Montgomery shared some fascinating insights into the secrets of entrepreneurial success this week at a “fireside chat.” Luck, as it turns out, is no small factor.

—Redmond, WA-based Healionics raised $2.6 million from a syndicate of local angel investors. The company, which has its roots in work at the University of Washington, is working on technology to promote healing around implanted medical devices.