Dendreon Leans on California 9-1-1 Software Vendor to Keep Provenge Trains on Time

Xconomy Seattle — 

If Dendreon makes any information technology screw-ups with its experimental treatment for prostate cancer, it could be a matter of life and death for patients. That’s why the Seattle-based biotech company has turned to a custom software vendor with a reputation for supporting the California 9-1-1 system for 12 years with zero downtime.

The Dendreon IT contract is held by Direct Technology, a Roseville, CA-based custom software developer with a 40-person office in Bellevue, WA. Direct Technology, formerly called DirectApps, has forged a close relationship with Dendreon over the past three years, under a contract that gives it full responsibility to support, operate, maintain, and enhance Intellivenge, the program that oversees administration of sipuleucel-T (Provenge). I heard about this from talking to Wud Pocinwong, a senior vice president with Direct Technology in Bellevue.

Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) has made headlines for years with its first-of-a-kind treatment that actively stimulates a patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells as if they were a virus. The drug has shown it can help men with terminal prostate cancer live a median of 4.1 months longer than a placebo, with minimal side effects. Dendreon stock has boomed on this finding, enabling it to raise about $630 million to build up the manufacturing and marketing muscle so this drug can reach the $1 billion-plus annual sales potential that analysts project.

The opportunity is thought to be so lucrative because about 27,000 men in the U.S. die of prostate cancer every year, and many don’t want the side effects of chemotherapy alternatives. The FDA is reviewing Dendreon’s application to start selling the drug in the U.S., and the agency has a deadline of May 1 to make its decision. Part of that review will cover the Intellivenge tracking system.

“It’s an indication of the trust that Dendreon has in the skills we have in supporting their business,” Pocinwong

Keeping this system operating smoothly is no small task. The Dendreon drug isn’t just a vial you stick in the fridge and pull out when you need it.

Instead, the Dendreon drug is based on certain white blood cells withdrawn from the patient. It starts when a patient goes to a doctor’s office and has blood withdrawn. The blood is sent a filtering center for a procedure called leukapherisis, in which certain white blood cells are isolated. Those cells are shipped again to a Dendreon manufacturing center. That’s where the cells are incubated with a genetically engineered protein found on prostate cancer cells, called PAP, that’s fused to an immune-boosting compound, called GM-CSF.

The combination of drug and cells is left to incubate a couple of days. This is supposed to “teach” the patient’s own cells to recognize hallmarks of prostate cancer cells, and fight them like an invading virus. The revved-up cells are shipped back to the clinic, and re-infused into the patient. One month later, after three of these infusions, the patient is done with treatment.

While this precious package of blood cells zig-zags around the country, it has a bar-code slapped on it so that doctors, the company, or the FDA can keep track … Next Page »

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