Presage Biosciences, the Fred Hutch Spinoff, Adds CEO, Angel Bucks, Big Pharma Customers

Xconomy Seattle — 

Quite a lot has happened at Presage Biosciences in just a couple months. This Seattle-based company, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has recruited a new CEO, raised another $1 million, found new labs, and snapped up two active contracts from Big Pharma customers.

Such are the heady early days for the team at Presage, which I met yesterday in their brand new lab at the Fairview Research Center in South Lake Union. The new CEO is Caitlin Cameron, the former top executive at Seattle-based Cellnetix Labs. The company has now raised $4 million in its Series A round after more angel investors piled in on the $3 million financing I covered back in March. And Presage now counts two of the world’s major drugmakers as paying customers for its technology, which was invented at the Hutch by pediatric oncologist Jim Olson.

The big idea at Presage is find a way to increase the pitiful batting average that cancer drugs have in clinical trials. Despite all kinds of expensive laboratory analyses, only about one out of 10 cancer drugs that enter clinical trials ever makes it through the hoops necessary to become an FDA-approved product. Even worse, most FDA-approved cancer drugs only work for one-fourth or maybe one-third of patients, and researchers often can’t predict who will respond in clinical trials. Big Pharma and biotech companies have a huge stake in separating the winning drugs from the losers, and identifying which patients are likely to respond. There are more than 860 cancer drugs in development, according to a survey last year by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association. The cancer drug market is expected to grow to $84 billion by 2012, according to an analysis by Cowen & Co.

“This is a company with tremendous potential,” Cameron says. “If, and I really mean when we’re successful, we’ll have a huge impact on the drug discovery process and cancer treatment.”

Caitlin Cameron

Caitlin Cameron

First things first, I had to ask about the personnel moves. Presage started off with a highly credible CEO in Thane Kreiner, a former senior vice president at Santa Clara, CA-based Affymetrix. He has stepped down from the leadership position at Presage, largely because he was based in the Bay Area and the company needed to be in Seattle near the Hutch, according to Nathan Caffo, the vice president of business development. Kreiner remains a senior advisor to the company, although he’s not full-time.

Cameron, a former AT&T executive who once ran a $1.2 billion business there, got her most recent experience in healthcare at Cellnetix Labs. It’s a contract pathology laboratory on First Hill that serves 11 hospitals in the Northwest. That company grew from 60 employees to 180 under her management the past four years, while increasing profits, and shortening lab turnaround times for hospitals—a key barometer of customer service in that industry, Cameron says.

Customer service also is at the heart of what Presage … Next Page »

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