AVI Biopharma Bolts from Portland to Seattle to Tap Biotech Talent

AVI Biopharma, the developer of RNA-based drugs, is moving its headquarters and part of its scientific operations north a couple hundred miles from Portland, OR, to Bothell, WA, in an effort to mine the Seattle area’s bigger biotech talent pool.

The company, which has about 85 total employees, plans to keep its biodefense research and manufacturing facility in Corvallis, OR, while moving executive offices, administration, discovery research, chemistry, clinical and regulatory operations to new offices in Bothell, CEO Les Hudson told Xconomy yesterday in an exclusive interview. AVI plans to move into its new 19,000-square-foot office and lab space in August.

AVI (NASDAQ: AVII) is one of the oldest companies in biotech, having sputtered around since 1980 without ever developing an FDA-approved drug, burning through more than $250 million in investor cash at last count, and never becoming profitable, as I pointed out in this profile back in September. But the company has gotten some new life lately, as it has found creative new sources of capital, and has more than tripled its stock price this year from 66 cents to $2.29 at yesterday’s close. Since Hudson joined in February 2008, he has pushed forward its technology for precisely blocking specific strands of RNA as a new mode of developing drugs. AVI is using this science to work on experimental treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and against really dangerous potential bioterrorist agents that conventional drugs can’t stop—Ebola and Marburg virus.

All of these programs are going to require skilled, and experienced people to take forward, and Hudson says it will be easier to recruit them to Seattle than to Portland, where AVI is one of the very few biotech games in town.

“It’s important for us to be in Seattle because the competitive environment in life sciences is important to the tone and productivity of a company, and, if you’re looking to recruit someone, it’s important to be in a labor pool of significant size like there is in Seattle,” Hudson says.

AVI considered another site on the East Coast, but rejected that because … Next Page »

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