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

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is retiring. Wall Street applauded. That speaks volumes. When I looked back at Sharer’s 11-year tenure, I gave it a “C.”

Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTIC). Cell Therapeutics, after 20 years, is still in business. Ha. Ha. I know. Not funny. How it can continue to raise money, and hand out management bonuses, while so many other companies with worthy ideas struggle to raise cash? For the investors out there with short memories, let’s not forget that an FDA advisory panel stomped on this company with golf spikes back in March 2010, and the FDA followed suit a few weeks later, when the company filed a half-baked application to start selling a new lymphoma drug.

Marina Biotech (NASDAQ: MRNA). Marina Biotech works in a field that has fallen out of favor on Wall Street (RNA interference), and most of its R&D is still too early in its development to impress public investors.

AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII). This company brought in a new CEO, Chris Garabedian, who in turn brought in a whole new strategy and new management team to this long-struggling developer of RNA-based therapies. Then this fall, AVI suffered a pretty big hit when it missed out on a potential $500 million government contract to make a pandemic flu treatment. The loss of the contract, and an unfavorable patent ruling, prompted it to lay off 28 percent of its workforce.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD). The world’s largest maker of HIV drugs continued its diversification push by acquiring Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, a cancer drugmaker, for $375 million upfront. Gilead integrated its new assets and people in its Seattle R&D center, which previously had concentrated only on respiratory drugs.

OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OGXI). The Bothell, WA-based cancer drug developer didn’t make much noise this year, but when it talked in August about a delay in its clinical trial timelines, it got whacked by investors.

Oncothyreon (NASDAQ: ONTY). The big news at Oncothyreon is due to come out in 2012, as investors are waiting to see if its immune-booster for lung cancer, Stimuvax, was safe and effective in a pivotal-stage clinical trial. There’s a lot of bullish anticipation building in Oncothyreon stock, but like everything else in biotech, the proof will be in the pudding, and we can’t see it yet.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (ZymoGenetics). The big news was essentially no news—that Bristol-Myers Squibb said it planned to retain most of the people at ZymoGenetics after it acquired the Seattle biotech company in the fall of 2010. Former ZymoGenetics CEO Doug Williams, however, took this moment to leave town, finding a new gig as the head of R&D at Weston, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB).

University of Washington. It’s hard to pick one event at an organization as big as the UW, but one key development for entrepreneurs came earlier this month when the UW Center for Commercialization secured a $5 million loan commitment from the state to help round out a $25 million investment fund for startups, called the W Fund. I expect we’ll hear more about this fund in early 2012.

IDRI. The Infectious Disease Research Institute has long kept a low profile around town, but that could change now that the global health nonprofit has brought in new leadership with CEO Stewart Parker. The institute on First Hill, which gets much of its $25 million annual budget from the Gates Foundation, got an extra boost this year when drugmaker Eli Lilly committed $4 million to its tuberculosis drug discovery initiative.

Institute for Systems Biology. The nonprofit research center led by biotech pioneer Leroy Hood moved into the heart of the action in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, taking space in the former Rosetta Inpharmatics/Merck facility that’s across the street from Amazon’s new headquarters. Few people may realize it, but a few scientists at the ISB have been pursuing an interest in health of environmental systems, which Nitin Baliga described in an interview back in May.

PATH. The global health nonprofit basked in the wake of its success with a meningitis vaccine in Africa, and promptly secured another $100 million from the GAVI Alliance to … 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.