Dendreon Survives Medicare Panel, Arch’s Ouch, RNAi Shock Wave Hits Tekmira, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle’s hot biotech company of the moment survived an unusual public hearing this week that could have put a serious crimp in its ability to sell its drug.

—Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) dodged a bullet at a public hearing this week held by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The government-run health insurance plan for the poor and people 65 and older convened a panel of physicians and researchers to weigh the evidence for Dendreon’s sipuleucel-T (Provenge). The panel expressed an intermediate degree of confidence that the drug does prolong lives of men with prostate cancer when used according to its FDA-approved label, although the panel disapproved of use for unapproved “off-label” uses.

—Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche made big news this week when it announced a global R&D restructuring program, and specifically said it plans to terminate its efforts to discover and develop RNA interference drugs. This was a surprise given that Roche is the world’s biggest spender on pharma R&D, and a prominent benefactor of two leaders in this emerging field of therapy—Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) and Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR). Alnylam stock fell 5 percent on the news, while Tekmira dropped almost 14 percent.

Allozyne, the Seattle-based developer of new techniques to engineer protein drugs, said this week that its second drug candidate for autoimmune diseases has passed a couple important animal tests and is being primed for clinical trials. This treatment, a “bispecific” antibody designed to hit two targets on inflammatory cells instead of just one, is starting to generate just as much interest among Big Pharma partners as Allozyne’s lead candidate for multiple sclerosis, which has already completed a clinical trial, CEO Meenu Chhabra said in this Xconomy exclusive.

Arch Venture Partners, the largest life sciences venture investor in Washington state, came close, but wasn’t able to grab the proverbial cigar last week through an IPO of Ikaria. Arch was in line to see its early investment in Ikaria transformed into liquid holdings worth more than $50 million, until, at the last moment, the company withdrew its IPO when it didn’t find the kind of investor demand it wanted to see. Arch’s Bob Nelsen acknowledged he was disappointed, in an exclusive interview with Xconomy, but said Ikaria will still go on as one of those rare birds in biotech—a profitable company.

—Since I like to mix things up around here, I took some time to learn about what Redmond, WA-based Physio-Control is doing to generate some interest among docs attending this week’s American Heart Association meeting in Chicago. The company, part of medical device giant Medtronic, rolled out the latest iteration of its vision for smooth wireless transmission of heart data from ambulances to the hospital. Part of this plan involves a partnership with a hot health IT company, San Antonio, TX-based AirStrip Technologies, which makes a high-resolution iPhone app that cardiologists can use to examine a patient’s vitals.

Todd Patrick, one of the more successful life sciences entrepreneurs of the past decade in the Northwest, has taken a new gig as the CEO of Los Angeles-based C3 Jian.

—Another well-known CEO around town, Ron Berenson, made his exit from HemaQuest Pharmaceuticals, as he is being replaced by John Longenecker.

—And lastly, Seattle-based gene therapy pioneer Targeted Genetics, which has been gradually fading away over the past couple years, said this week it is seeking to merge with London-based Biocontrol. Shareholders at Biocontrol are being asked to OK this deal.