The Year in Seattle Biotech: Lots of Acquisitions, Few New Startups

Xconomy Seattle — 

This was a great year for Seattle biotech if you measure success through sheer number of acquisitions. But if you prefer to measure the health of an innovation community by the number of exciting new startups it hatches, then this was most certainly a down year.

That’s the mixed bag of returns that I saw when looking back at the news of 2011 from the Seattle life sciences scene. This was the year of the acquisition for Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, Pathway Medical Technologies, Calypso Medical Technologies, SonoSite (NASDAQ: SONO), Amnis, Geospiza, and Pacific Biosciences Labs (the maker of the Clarisonic skin brush.)

While those companies got harvested, not a whole lot of new seeds got planted. The list of notable Seattle biotech startups this year includes Cardeas Pharma, Oncofactor, Blaze Bioscience, Aquedect Neuroscience and Cardiac Insight.

Who else made headlines in Seattle biotech in 2011? Seattle Genetics emerged. Dendreon crashed. Marina Biotech, Omeros, and AVI Biopharma all had years they’d like to forget. Cell Therapeutics somehow managed to stay in business. New leaders emerged at the global health nonprofits, as Alan Aderem moved in to run the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Stewart Parker took over at the Infectious Disease Research Institute, and Chris Elias created a vacancy at the top of PATH by leaving for a new gig at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation’s head of global health, Tachi Yamada, left for a new venture capital gig, and was replaced by a former Novartis executive, Trevor Mundel.

Here’s a company-by-company rundown of the major events at Seattle biopharmaceutical and global health organizations we keep tabs on here at Xconomy. Tomorrow, I’ll follow up with the rundown of rundown of medical device, diagnostic, and others in fields like Bio-IT or Health IT.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN). This was a transformative year for Seattle Genetics. The company broke through in August by winning FDA approval of its first product, a souped-up antibody for rare lymphomas. The drug validated a new target on the surface of cancer cells, CD30, and provided hard proof that Seattle Genetics’ proprietary chemistry can successfully link toxins to antibodies—a feat that has eluded scientists for 30 years. Big Pharma companies have beaten a path to Bothell to get licenses to the antibody-drug linking technology, and Seattle Genetics has exceeded Wall Street expectations in the early days of its drug rollout.

Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN). Dendreon was the star of local biotech in 2010, and this year it fell flat on its face. The company failed to live up to its first full year sales forecast with its immune-boosting drug for prostate cancer, and burned its shareholder base in the process. The company lost more than $3.5 billion in market valuation, and had to cut 500 jobs, largely because it sparked controversy and confusion by pricing its cancer drug too high—at $93,000 per patient. It remains to be seen this year whether Dendreon can pick up the pieces, as the disastrous screw-up of 2011 has created a gaping opportunity for emerging competitors like Johnson & Johnson’s abiraterone (Zytiga) and Medivation’s MDV-3100.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN). The Thousand Oaks, CA-based biotech company, which has significant R&D in Seattle, said at the end of the year that longtime CEO Kevin Sharer … Next Page »

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3 responses to “The Year in Seattle Biotech: Lots of Acquisitions, Few New Startups”

  1. krassen says:

    Allozyne/PARD merger is a no-go. Another write-off for OVP.

    They have also been taking loss on Complete Genomics, selling for ~$3, while average purchase price was $7.50

    The common is that both companies were hyped on Xconomy, multiple times…

  2. krassen says:

    to add for the record: @ldtimmerman is a very decent guy… I just hate it how he constantly gets played by the OVP “propaganda machine”, as was the case with Allozyne…

  3. RIP Lightsciences says:


    Lightsciences Oncology is no longer a business entity. Most employees were let go in late Oct. It’s surprising it lasted so long considering the management knew the PDT did not work on solid tumors. LSO was literally kicked out of Taiwan after Ph II studies and most companies would not have gone to Ph III with the piss poor data. Of course ex-CEO Llew spun it all up for another 3 years. It was clear by end of Q1 in 2009 (1st peek) that HCC trial failed the survival endpoint.