Dendreon Resists Urge to Sell Out, NanoString Nabs $30M, VC Firm Cashes Out on OncoGenex, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

This is definitely not in sync with the economic theme of 2009, but surprisingly, there was a lot of good news in Seattle biotech the past week.

Dendreon CEO Mitchell Gold fielded a lot of questions at the company’s annual shareholder meeting yesterday, and the biggest one of all is whether he’s looking to sell the company. He said all the right things a CEO is supposed to say. But afterwards, when I asked him to elaborate, he went further—saying that not only does he want Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) to remain independent, he wants it to become the next big anchor for Seattle biotech, like Immunex in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies pulled in a whopping $30 million round of venture capital to continue building momentum for its marketed genetic analysis tool, nCounter. The company had the unfortunate timing to introduce this product last July, right before the economic crisis, but it raised the new capital anyway, partly because rave product reviews trickled in to Clarus Ventures, one of the largest biotech venture investors in the U.S.

—Bothell, WA-based OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OGXI), the developer of a new prostate cancer drug, doesn’t seem to be very well known in its backyard, but this company has been on an amazing bull run on Wall Street, and it has made some serious money for Vancouver, BC-based Ventures West. I dug through the regulatory filings to show that Ventures West, which had almost 17 percent ownership in the company last fall when it traded down in the $2 range, has cashed out all its shares. The stock closed yesterday at $25.90.

—Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC) has run dangerously low on cash this year, and is performing a “tight-wire” act to hold everything together. Yesterday I discovered in the regulatory filings that the company’s compensation committee decided to reward the company’s senior executives with $250,000 of bonuses that had been deferred until they considered the company “sufficiently liquid” to make the payments.

MDRNA, the Bothell, WA-based developer of RNA interference drug technology, had two bits of good news this week. The company (NASDAQ: MRNA), ran extremely low on cash earlier this year, but has recovered enough to raise $10.5 million in a stock sale to existing investors. The company also said that a generic calcitonin nasal spray it developed for osteoporosis was approved by the FDA and introduced to the market by Par Pharmaceutical. MDRNA sold the product to Par back in March, but it can still receive an undisclosed profit share from the product over the next five years.

—Bothell, WA-based Alder Biopharmaceuticals, the developer of targeted antibody drugs, expanded its partnership with pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough, in which it will develop a number of antibody drug candidates for a major neurological disease, says Alder CEO Randy Schatzman. Yes, that’s cryptic, but the understated Schatzman said this deal provides “significant” upfront cash to his company, milestone payments for success in development, and royalties on future sales. Since Alder raised $40 million in venture capital in January 2008, I’m going to surmise this new deal pulls in at least $5 million upfront.

—Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals is starting to build a preliminary, but impressive, body of evidence for its experimental drug candidate for blood cancers. Two weeks ago, the company showed an earlier slice of data that showed its CAL-101 drug was at least partially shrinking tumors for 6 of the first 12 patients who enrolled in a clinical trial, even when given at lower-than-optimal doses. As more patients enroll in the clinical trial, the data is holding up, with 12 of the first 24 patients now reporting partial tumor shrinkage.

—Portland, OR-based AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII), the developer of RNA-based therapies, said last week that it will receive $3 million from Charley’s Fund to continue testing a treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.