While I Was Away on Denali: NanoString, Mirabilis, Seattle Genetics

Xconomy Seattle — 

This week, I flew home after a three-week expedition to summit the highest peak in North America—Alaska’s Denali (Mt. McKinley). Three weeks is a long time in the news business. So here’s a roundup of Seattle biotech highlights that I missed, many of which were covered by colleagues who held down the fort.

Jens Quistgaard is back. The Seattle-area ultrasound entrepreneur, formerly of SonoSite and Liposonix, has taken over as CEO of Bothell, WA-based Mirabilis Medica. The startup also announced it has completed a $7 million financing from GSR Ventures and Charter Life Sciences to further develop its high-intensity focused ultrasound technology to zap uterine fibroids in women. The company, founded in 2004, said it is conducting clinical trials of the experimental treatment outside the U.S. [Update: 10:15 am] Word from the WBBA is that Quistgaard is also planning a triumphant return to the stage next week at Life Science Innovation Northwest, as one of the members of the band known as Jimi Helix and the Pipettes. Stay tuned.

—Seattle-based NanoString Technologies found a way to seize on the recent boomlet in biotech IPOs. NanoString (NASDAQ: NSTG) raised $54 million in its IPO on June 25, by selling 5.4 million shares at $10 apiece. The company, which offers digital gene expression tools for biologists and a 50-gene diagnostic test to breast cancer physicians, found limited demand for its stock in its early days as a public company. Shares closed at $8.47 yesterday.

Immune Design, the Seattle-based developer of compounds to make vaccines more potent, said it had formed collaborations with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Cancer Research Institute, two New York-based non-profits that support cancer research. The idea is to see whether Immune Design’s synthetic compounds can enhance some of the cancer immunotherapy combinations that researchers are becoming increasingly excited about. Financial terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.

Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) found another partner willing to pay big bucks to gain access to its technology that links antibodies to toxins that make them more powerful cancer-fighters. Germany-based Bayer agreed to pay $20 million in upfront and option-exercise rights to use the antibody-linking technology against several different molecular targets implicated in cancer. If those drug candidates pan out, Seattle Genetics stands to collect as much as $500 million in milestone payments, plus royalties on future product sales.

—Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said it has struck a deal with Weston, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) to help the biotech giant study the immune system repertoire and find new biomarkers for people with hard-to-treat autoimmune diseases. That deal came a little more than a month after Adaptive formed an agreement with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) to hunt for new biomarkers that may help predict whether a cancer patient is likely to respond to certain treatments.

—Lastly, Seattle biotech readers should know that this region’s biomedical innovations are truly everywhere, even when you retreat to the furthest corners of the Earth. While on Denali’s West Buttress at the 14,000-foot elevation camp, I was one of the climbers who participated in a research study conducted by Stanford University. The researchers assessed our blood oxygen levels, our fitness on the standard 6-minute walk test, and our hydration status. The researchers had me lay down for an ultrasound exam of my vena cava, the big vein that carries blood from the legs to the heart. I couldn’t help but ask what machine they were using, and the scientist said it was one from Redmond, WA-based Mobisante. Naturally, since this is a company I’ve written about, I had to ask how the tool was performing. He loved how light it was and its ability to share images via e-mail and generate high-quality images on a small screen. Now we’ll just have to see if Stanford learns anything important from this study, which might be applicable to people with respiratory diseases.