There’s a changing of the guard happening over at one of the historic addresses in Seattle biotech—1100 Olive Way. This former car dealership, which for more than 15 years was home to Targeted Genetics’ leading-edge gene therapy work, is now going to be the center of a new initiative in pediatric cancer studies at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
This story jumped out at me literally, as I noticed a brand new paint job and set of Children’s logos plastered on the door, just off the corner of Olive Way and Boren Avenue. (For all of you who wonder where I get my story ideas, this one came from the seat of my bicycle as I pedaled by yesterday morning on my way to the office.)
It turns out that Children’s, which already occupies a state-of-the-art research building at 9th and Stewart just a few blocks away, is spiffing up the former Targeted Genetics facility to turn it into a pediatric cancer research center led by Michael Jensen, a newly recruited scientist from City of Hope in Duarte, CA. Jensen will lead a team there that studies immunotherapy techniques, in which scientists seek to stimulate the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells as a foreign invader like a virus or bacteria. The old facility, which used to house Targeted Genetics’ gene therapy manufacturing plant, will eventually house new labs. It will also become home for a “T-cell re-engineering and production factory” in which T-cells of the immune system are harvested from the blood and re-programmed to fight cancer, says Teri Thomas, a spokeswoman for Seattle Children’s.
Targeted Genetics, meanwhile, has shrunk down to just four employees and some part-time consultants, with a headquarters downtown at 601 Union Street, the Two Union Square building. The company terminated its lease on the old 1100 Olive Way facility in November, and then consolidated some offices in the neighboring Metropolitan Park West building until the end of July, when it moved its remaining employees to the downtown building.
The 1100 Olive building has a lot of sentimental value to an entire generation of Seattle biotech talent, who learned the industry ropes there under longtime CEO H. Stewart Parker. Targeted Genetics has had well-documented financial struggles the past couple years. It received a critical lifeline last September when Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) agreed to acquire some of its most valuable intellectual property, used for manufacturing certain viruses for gene therapy experiments, for $7 million.
With no need for its own manufacturing space anymore, Targeted Genetics has been able to downsize further. The company still has a couple of proprietary drug development programs—one for a rare eye disorder called Leber’s congenital amaurosis, and another for Huntington’s disease. The clinical trials for those gene therapy programs are being run elsewhere, at University College London and the University of Iowa, respectively. Another program that Targeted Genetics is watching very closely, and which could generate some milestone payments, is a heart failure treatment in development by San Diego-based Celladon.
Targeted Genetics’ last statement about its financial health came out on June 1, and CEO Susan Robinson told me in a phone call yesterday that she wasn’t going to offer any further update. The company said in that statement it had $5.1 million in cash and investments left on Dec. 31, 2009. In that release, Robinson said she was evaluating options, like selling the company, or liquidating assets while sending future royalty streams to shareholders. Much of the value of that royalty stream will depend on what happens to Celladon’s heart failure program, which yielded some promising results at a medical meeting in May.
Even if that program advances with the key modified viral delivery vector from Targeted Genetics to help heart failure patients, the manufacturing will be done somewhere else. And it’s possible that a new generation of immune-based treatment for kids with cancer will emerge from 1100 Olive Way. It may not be much consolation for Targeted Genetics employees who lost their jobs or shareholders who lost their money, but Robinson saw something positive about that for the Seattle biotech community.
“I’m glad to see that the building is now being occupied by an institution in Seattle that will use it for what it’s been used for the past 15 years, and that’s research and development,” says Robinson.