Dendreon’s Manufacturing Challenge, Archus Cuts Deep, Accelerator Company Launches & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle’s biotech companies must be trying to get a lot done before Memorial Day weekend, because we had reports on deals, layoffs, and big strategic moves.

Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) has spent years trying to prove that its immune-boosting therapy for prostate cancer really works, and now it has to show it can make enough of it to meet coming demand. The company has just one commercial manufacturing facility, and it is rapidly trying to scale it up over the next 14 months so it can pump out a maximum of $500 million to $1 billion worth of Provenge each year, says CEO Mitchell Gold.

Archus Orthopedics, the Redmond, WA-based developer of spinal implants that help people remain mobile after back surgery, has laid off most of its employees and significantly scaled back operations to conserve its remaining cash.

Accelerator, the Seattle-based investment vehicle for biotech startups, bankrolled its 10th company, called Xori. The company raised $2.1 million out of a $4.5 million round, toward a goal of developing technology that will make antibody drugs much more quickly, and with better properties, than existing methods.

—Cancer drugs represent one of the most intense fields of interest in biotechnology, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a lot of Seattle biotech companies have news coming out at this year’s meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology from May 29 to June 2. ASCO posted brief online summaries of a lot of clinical trial data to be presented, and I combed through the most interesting abstracts from companies in the Northwest.

Bionavitas, a Redmond, WA-based developer of light technology to help algae grow much more efficiently, explained its strategy in this feature story. It sees more promising markets in using algae to make food additives and for toxic cleanup—at least in the early days—than for biofuels.

—I heard about an intriguing new startup called Presage Therapeutics, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, that aims to help doctors predict which cancer drugs will work, and which won’t. This has been the subject of lots of complex genomic research, but founder Jim Olson sees a much simpler way to help doctors pick the best drug.

CellCyte Genetics, the Bothell, WA-based biotech company, said it has tentatively agreed to settle an SEC investigation. The company, whose stock briefly eclipsed $7 a share in December 2007, is now worth six cents a share.

CoAptus Medical, the Redmond, WA-based developer of a minimally-invasive method for sealing up heart defects, raised $3 million in new equity to finish animal tests and move into a clinical trial later this year. The company uses radiofrequency waves to heat up and essentially weld flap-like heart defects, which can allow blood clots that pass to the brain and cause strokes, like the one that afflicted New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to improve the health of people in poor countries, has some good news to report on a key program that tackles malnutrition. PATH has helped spark a new market in India for “Ultra Rice,” fortified with iron, that’s now getting in the daily lunches of 60,000 schoolchildren in India, said project manager Dipika Matthias. I first wrote about the Ultra Rice technology, which comes from the lab of a Bellingham, WA-based food scientist, back in August.

Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY), the Seattle-based developer of cancer drugs, has been riding a wave of renewed interest in its immunotherapy program since Dendreon reported the field’s first big success in pivotal clinical trial last month. Oncothyreon took advantage by raising another $11 million in new capital. The company already had 12 months of capital in the bank.

HealthUnity, a Bellevue, WA-based maker of software for connecting health IT systems, raised $2 million out of a $4 million equity financing, according to a regulatory filing.