Friend Leads Open Source Biology Push, Arzeda Leaves UW Nest, SBRI Teams with PATH on Malaria, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

It was another busy week in Seattle life sciences, with some good news from the nonprofit side, and some bad news from the public-traded biotechs.

—Xconomy had the exclusive story this week on how Merck’s Stephen Friend is forming a new nonprofit in Seattle called Sage that hopes to spark an open-source biology movement to make better drugs. Friend, with co-founder Eric Schadt of Merck, has raised the initial $5 million in seed donations, and formed initial collaborations with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington, and Yale University.

–Seattle-based Arzeda, the maker of designer enzymes emerging from the lab of University of Washington biochemist David Baker, told Xconomy in another exclusive about how it has secured commitments from OVP Venture Partners and WRF Capital to anchor its $12 million Series A venture round. It plans initially to make enzymes to protect crops from herbicides, and then pursue higher-difficulty projects like biodegradable plastics and cellulosic biofuels.

—Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC), aiming preserve its remaining cash, said it is closing its animal testing facility in Italy and laying off 62 workers there. It still has about 122 employees in Seattle, a spokesman says.

—Seattle Biomedical Research Institute secured a $2.3 million grant from PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative to narrow down a list of promising candidates for malaria vaccines. I got the inside scoop from the Malaria Vaccine Initiative’s Ashley Birkett on why PATH is so high on the work happening down on Westlake Avenue.

—Targeted Genetics (NASDAQ: TGEN) said this week it is conserving cash for a few more months, by transferring its manufacturing know-how of AAV viruses for delivering gene therapy drugs to contract manufacturers. It says it now has enough money to operate through the first half of 2009.

—Life sciences isn’t completely about new drugs and medical devices. This week, we put together a list of more than 80 cleantech players in Washington, which includes a few people using sophisticated biology to pump out industrial quantities of renewable fuels. The list actually reflects a lot of diverse technology ideas, from life sciences through IT.

—VPDiagnostics, a Seattle-based company that spun out of research at the University of Washington, said it secured a $2.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant will be used to run a 300-patient clinical trial that will look at how well the company’s MRI-based technology does at predicting when patients are at high risk of having a stroke.

—I listened to an update from the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s lobbying team in the other Washington (DC), led by president Jim Greenwood. The news is pretty grim, as about one-third of all publicly traded companies have less than six months of cash on hand. The political environment doesn’t sound favorable to companies either, as perennial issues like universal healthcare coverage and the advent of cheaper generic biotech drugs appear to have a chance at becoming law.