Tekmira and AVI Win Ebola Deals, Mirador’s Idea to Prevent Hospital Errors, Tom Ranken’s New Mission, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

The Ebola virus made a big appearance on the Northwest biotech scene this week, but it wasn’t nearly as ominous as that sounds.

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, the Vancouver, BC-based developer of drugs that silence specific stretches of RNA, said it has nailed down a U.S. defense contract that could be worth as much as $140 million over time to develop an RNA-based treatment for Ebola virus. News broke the next day that Tekmira wasn’t alone. Bothell, WA-based AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII) said it also secured a defense contract worth as much as $291 million over time if it can hit a series of milestones in development of an RNA-based Ebola treatment. While I’m sure the companies are happy to cash the checks, these are drugs that everybody hopes will never need to be used for biodefense.

—While Tekmira and AVI are going to enjoy living off Uncle Sam’s contracts for a while, many other biotech companies are having to adjust to a new stingy reality since the Wall Street-fueled housing bubble burst in 2008. Accelerator’s Carl Weissman offered some specific examples of how some companies have been pinching their pennies ever since.

—Here’s an interesting startup profile of a medical device company finding a way forward in this new era of austerity. Seattle-based Mirador Biomedical, armed with just $1.1 million in financing, has developed a simple device designed to prevent a common error in the hospital—when a catheter gets placed in an artery instead of a vein. With a little luck, Mirador could have an FDA-approved product before the end of 2010.

—A familiar name in Seattle biotech, Tom Ranken, has found a new mission as the head of the Washington Clean Technology Association. He’s been feeling some déjà vu lately, given that cleantech as an industry is in those heady early days like biotech was in the 1990s when he played a pivotal role in building the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.

—Bothell, WA-based MDRNA (NASDAQ: MRNA) delivered some news that’s sure to irritate a few shareholders. It announced a reverse stock split, in which shareholders will get one share for every four they own today. The company said this move was authorized by its board at the 2009 annual meeting, so it could be timed at the right moment in the future. MDRNA was worth 75 cents a share at yesterday’s close.