Dendreon Spending Big Bucks, Gilead Gets FDA Nod, NanoString Thinking Diagnostics, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle biotech had more than the usual flow of good news this week.

—The top executives at Seattle-based Dendreon provided a detailed overview to analysts this week about their plans for the year ahead. Dendreon is planning to spend $460 million of its cash hoard on the commercial push for sipuleucel-T (Provenge), a first-of-its-kind immune booster for prostate cancer that most analysts expect will be approved for sale by May 1. The company (NASDAQ: DNDN) expects this investment to pay off by 2011, when it forecasts it will turn cash-flow positive for the first time.

Sage Bionetworks, the nonprofit research collaborative based in Seattle, said it has received a $6.7 million grant to train a new generation of computing and math-savvy biologists. This is one important element of the vision of Sage founder Stephen Friend, who is attempting to spark what amounts to an open source-style movement for biology. If you’d like to hear Stephen describe this, take a listen to a good interview he did with Keith Seinfeld of KPLU.

—The team at Gilead Sciences‘ branch in Seattle can breathe a sigh of relief now that the FDA has finally approved their inhalable antibiotic for cystic fibrosis. Gilead (NASDAQ: GILD) paid $365 million to acquire Seattle’s Corus Pharma to get this drug in 2006, but it has been held up by FDA delays. Getting U.S. sales from this drug certainly doesn’t hurt the local team’s ability to justify its new $50 million offices in South Lake Union.

—My colleague from Boston, Ryan McBride, contributed an interesting follow-up on Microsoft‘s latest foray into health IT, through its acquisition of Andover, MA-based Sentillion. Stay tuned for more to come from us on what the Microsoft Health Solutions group is doing.

—Michael Martino, the CEO of Seattle-based Arzeda, is leaving the company to take a new job that pays, and enables the company to conserve its cash. Arzeda, a spinout from the University of Washington lab of biochemist David Baker, uses computers to custom-design enzymes for industrial purposes.

—One of the more interesting startups I cover for our Boston site, Cambridge, MA-based Genocea Biosciences, said this week that it licensed some important intellectual property to make vaccines for genital herpes from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies is making some big strategic decisions about who will be its next leader, and what it will really aim to accomplish in the years to come with its technology for generating digital readouts on gene expression. NanoString has made some headway in selling this tool to academic researchers, but new executive chairman Bill Young wants to see more progress in selling it to pharmaceutical companies, and new applications that might make this a serious diagnostic tool.