Light Sciences Stumbles, Cardiac Dimensions Gets EU OK, Immune Design Pockets $11M, & More Seattle-Area Life Sciences News

This week had a smattering of pretty significant updates from companies that tend to (try anyway) to keep a pretty low profile.

—Seattle-based Immune Design, the developer of vaccine technology, said it has pulled in another $11 million through the second tranche of its previously announced Series B venture financing. The company is backed by some prominent VC firms in Versant Ventures, Alta Partners, The Column Group, and ProQuest Investments.

—There was some bad news to report from Bellevue, WA-based Light Sciences Oncology. The company, developing a novel drug/device combination treatment for cancer, stumbled in its pivotal clinical trial and is now preparing to make major cuts including layoffs. The company, founded in 1995, received more than $50 million alone from former Microsoft treasurer Craig Watjen, and well over $130 million its history from investors that include Essex Woodland Health Ventures, Johnson & Johnson Development Corp, and Novo Nordisk. Light Sciences Oncology hasn’t provided any official comment yet on what its plans are.

Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA) was able to get out of a lease obligation this week on one of its two corporate buildings in Bothell that has basically been sitting empty the past three years. The building, at 3450 Monte Villa Parkway, had been the place where Marina (then Nastech Pharmaceutical) did some small scale manufacturing of nasal spray compounds that it no longer makes. Marina coughed up 7.8 million shares of newly issued stock to end the lease, according to a regulatory filing.

Cardiac Dimensions, the Kirkland, WA-based developer of a device to treat a common form of heart failure, said it won European Union regulatory clearance to start selling its device. The company, which has raised more than $65 million in its 10-year history, will now look to compete against a rival technology which Abbott Laboratories sells for about 20,000 Euros a patient, said CEO Rick Stewart. Cardiac Dimensions’ plan is to begin selling the device first in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in 2012.

—We had a fun little experiment this week with live Q&A on Twitter, aka “Tweetchat,” on the state of RNA interference drug development with John Maraganore, the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. This drew more than 25 participants in a half-hour time block, including one well-known member of the Seattle biotech community—Bob Overell, the CEO of PhaseRx (@Robert_Overell).

—The FDA has been feeling the pressure for months now from industry groups, and venture capitalists, to overhaul the way it does business to help stir more life sciences innovation. Now this week, the FDA came out with a strategic overview document, which outlines a few basic ideas for how to go about this while sticking to its traditional mission of protecting public safety, and ensuring new medical products are effective. This is a complicated and tricky business with no simple answer, as you can see from some of the comments at the end of this story.

—This week in the BioBeat column, I wrote about “Why universities are key to the Future of Biotech, and how UCSF’s chief is showing the way.” This is about what UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech, is doing to create better partnerships between academia and industry groups so that both groups can better serve public health.

—Rockville, MD-based Emergent Biosolutions won a massive $1.25 billion contract from the federal government to produce its anthrax vaccine. The deal was big enough to be heard a continent away in Seattle, where Emergent now has an R&D center through its acquisition a year ago of Trubion Pharmaceuticals.

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