Dendreon’s False Rumor, Cell Therapeutics’ New FDA Day, Microsoft’s Health-IT Plan, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

Speculation about the future of a few cancer drugs attracted a ton of interest in Seattle biotech this week.

—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) lived up to its nickname on Wall Street this week: Dendrama. The company was forced to fight back against a rumor from analyst Elliott Favus, which turned out to be wrong, but made people wonder for a while whether Dendreon will have to appear before another FDA advisory panel before it can win approval to start selling its experimental prostate cancer drug in the U.S. After a couple hours of speculation, the FDA said there won’t be a panel. The next day, Dendreon released some substantive news about how its clinical trial data is standing the test of time.

—The other local drama king that has a passionate following in the fast-money crowd—Seattle-based Cell Therapeutics—will indeed have its day in front of the FDA. Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC) had been planning to appear before an advisory panel on February 10 to argue for approval of its drug for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but that day was snowed out in DC. The meeting has been rescheduled for March 22.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) gave me a detailed update on its strategy for providing software for healthcare providers and life scientists. This involves a whole lot of waiting for the federal government to figure out a firm definition of something called “meaningful use” of electronic health records, before the billions of stimulus dollars can start flowing to spur adoption of those records. Greg also covered Microsoft’s latest attempt to spur adoption of its HealthVault electronic health record-sharing program, from GM David Cerino.

—Seattle-based Geospiza has been kicking around a long time trying to build momentum for its idea that biologists need better software if they’re ever going to make sense of the terabytes of genomic data that’s being spit out by ever better, faster, cheaper sequencing tools. This message has started to resonate, and Geospiza can now proudly say it is operating consistently in the black.

—Seattle is a long way away from Chile, but one of this region’s promising cleantech companies is feeling the impact of the devastating earthquake a continent away. Bio Architecture Lab CEO Niki Parekh says the company’s employees in Santiago are safe, but he’s unsure what sort of impact the quake will have on his company’s pilot project to turn seaweed from the coast of Chile into renewable butanol fuel.

Ion Torrent Systems is one of the big stories that emerged in the past week in the field of gene sequencing, since it said it has invented a semiconductor-based instrument that costs one-tenth as much as competitors’, and can read an impressive amount of DNA for $500 an hour. I wasn’t there to hear this buzzed-about talk, but I got the rundown from Todd Smith, the founder of Seattle-based Geospiza, who talked about what this could mean for biomedical research.

—The suspense has got to be agonizing for the people at Bellevue, WA-based Light Sciences Oncology. The company has been waiting almost a year longer for the results of a pivotal clinical trial, which will say whether its drug/device combo therapy can help people with liver cancer to live longer. The results, CEO Llew Keltner told me in this update, should arrive by this summer.

OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals said its chief financial officer, Stephen Anderson, has left the company. The company (NASDAQ: OGXI), with operations in Bothell, WA and Vancouver, BC, didn’t say why Anderson is leaving.

—How can scientists trained in academia make the transition to working for a biotech company? That was the big question covered at an event last week, organized by the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Don Rule, the founder of Translational Software, offered up a guest editorial covering the highlights of the event.

SonoSite (NASDAQ: SONO), the Bothell, WA-based maker of portable ultrasound machines, said it spent $89 million of its cash to buy back shares—a financial engineering move that companies generally use to prop up their stock price.

Seattle Genetics said this week it has secured an undisclosed milestone payment from the Genentech unit of Switzerland-based Roche. The Bothell, WA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: SGEN) earned the cash because Roche is using its technology to link an antibody drug to a toxin to make it a more potent cancer fighter. The payment suggests that relations can’t be all bad between the companies, after Roche scrapped a separate partnership in December following the failure of another drug the companies had been co-developing.