Seattle-Area Business, Life Sciences, and Technology News Briefs


West Coast Biotech Roundup: Lumena/Shire, Isis, Janssen Labs & More

A new wave of buyout fervor included the acquisition of San Diego’s Lumena Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Labs unveiled plans for a new incubator in South San Francisco, and Statos Genomics raised capital in Seattle. Here is the past week’s roundup of news up and down the left coast.

—San Diego’s Lumena Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2011 to develop oral drugs for treating rare liver disorders, agreed to a $260 million-plus buyout offer from Irish drug maker Shire. The deal helps Shire expand its business in gastrointestinal drugs. In addition to paying $260 million in cash upfront, Shire agreed to make an additional payment for the cash on Lumena’s balance sheet when the deal closes, as well as milestone payments as two Lumena drugs advance through clinical trials. The acquisition comes amid a wave of big pharma deal activity.

—Janssen Labs, part of the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) healthcare empire, announced a new 30,000 square foot life sciences incubator in South San Francisco that could house up to 50 companies and potentially double the group’s nationwide capacity. Janssen Labs’ three current sites are in San Diego, San Francisco, and Cambridge.

—Xenoport (NASDAQ: XNPT) of Santa Clara, CA has licensed its alcohol abuse deterrent arbaclofen placarbil to Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals of Richmond, VA, for $20 million upfront and $125 million in potential milestone payments, plus royalties. Reckitt receives exclusive worldwide rights to the drug and plans to move it into a Phase 2b clinical study.

—Shares of Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) surged after the company reported encouraging results in a mid-stage trial of its antisense drug GCGRRx in patients with type 2 diabetes. Isis said patients achieved statistically significant reductions in blood sugar levels, with absolute mean reductions in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) greater than 2 percent at 200 milligrams and 1 percent at 100 milligrams after 13 weeks of treatment.

Stratos Genomics, a Seattle-based developer of low-cost gene sequencing technology, has raised $10 million of a planned $16 million investment round, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company previously raised over $13 million in the seven years since it was founded to advance its proprietary “sequencing-by-expansion” nanopore technology for both targeted and whole-genome sequencing.

—University of California, San Francisco researcher Alex Marson contributed work to a drug discovery program with ambitions to produce a treatment for multiple autoimmune diseases. Still a long way from human testing, the program, as Xconomy reported Monday, is the property of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) via its Cambridge, MA-based subsidiary Tempero Pharmaceuticals.

—Tacoma, WA-based Revalesio has raised $13.5 million of a planned $40 million investment round to advance its technology, which generates charge-stabilized molecules in medical grade saline solution. The company, founded in 2000, says it is advancing the use of its novel product, which does not contain a traditional active pharmaceutical ingredient, for intravenous use in treating inflammatory diseases.

—Human Longevity, the genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic company founded in San Diego by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, named three leaders to its core scientific team. Details are here.

—San Diego-based Owaves, a digital health startup founded a year ago, introduced a calendar app for the iPad that is intended to help guide users to a healthier standard of living. The seed-stage company plans to use wireless health technology to help users adopt new measurements for health and wellness.

Bruce Bigelow and Ben Romano contributed to this roundup.


Motricity CEO Wuerch Out

Ryan Wuerch is out as CEO of Motricity (NASDAQ: MOTR) and is no longer on the board, the company announced today. Motricity said Wuerch’s termination was “mutually agreed,” but it gave no reason for the change. President and chief operating officer Jim Smith was named interim CEO, and is being considered for the permanent position while the company conducts a broader search. Motricity, a mobile software service company, moved to the Seattle area in late 2007 when it acquired the mobile division of Infospace for $135 million. The company completed a disappointing IPO in 2009. Shares were down more than 7 percent on news of the CEO change.

Dendreon Adds Ex-ImClone CEO to Board

Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) said today it has named John H. Johnson, the CEO of East Brunswick, NJ-based Savient Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SVNT). Johnson was previously the head of Eli Lilly’s oncology business unit, and the CEO of ImClone Systems, the cancer drug developer, when it was acquired by Lilly for more than $6.5 billion in 2008.


Digital Chocolate Eats Up Sandlot Games

San Mateo-based social game maker Digital Chocolate said this week that it has acquired Bothell, WA-based Sandlot Games, a casual game studio known for Web and mobile titles such as Cake Mania, Super Granny, Tradewinds, and Westward. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. “Sandlot has built a great reputation in casual games,” Digital Chocolate founder and CEO Trip Hawkins (an Xconomist), who also founded Electronic Arts, said in a statement. “We love their development teams and we can now expand further in Seattle.”


Bezos Gives $10M to Museum

Billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is giving $10 million to establish a “Center for Innovation” at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, which is moving into a new headquarters next year near the new Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) campus in the South Lake Union neighborhood. The new center will focus on the legacy of innovation in business and global health in the Seattle area. In a news release, Bezos called out “the disproportionate number of extraordinary organizations” founded in the region, including Microsoft, Boeing, UPS, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.


Seattle Children’s Gets $2.3M from Gates

Seattle Children’s Hospital said today it has received a two-year, $2.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue development of its low-cost ventilator for premature infants that need help in order to breathe. More than 1 million infants die every year because of inadequate lung function, and the Children’s device aims to reduce that figure by offering a ventilator that is simpler to run and cheaper than the ventilators used in developed countries. I last wrote an in-depth feature on this technology, developed by Seattle Children’s CEO Tom Hansen and colleagues, last August.

Kineta Adds $2.8M Grant

Seattle-based Kineta, the developer of drugs for immune disorders, said it has received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant will support Kineta’s work on a new class of antiviral drugs that trigger the innate immune system to fight various viruses like hepatitis C, influenza, and West Nile. The company said it expects to pick a lead drug candidate in 2012.


AVI Starts Duchenne Trial

Bothell, WA-based AVI Biopharma (NASDAQ: AVII) said today it has started dosing patients in a mid-stage trial of eteplirsen, an experimental RNA-based therapy for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The study is expected to enroll 12 patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. Patients will get once-weekly intravenous infusions of the new drug, or a placebo, for 24 weeks, AVI said.


WA VCs Invest in OR Cloud Startups

A couple of financing deals on the radar this week for Oregon-based cloud computing firms, with the money coming from Seattle-area venture capitalists. The first was the $6 million round for Portland’s Cedexis, which helps companies monitor cloud computing performance. Madrona Venture Group of Seattle was named as an investor, along with Palo Alto, CA-based Advanced Technology Ventures. Bellevue, WA’s Ignition Partners led the $8 million round in AppFog, a platform hosting service (AppFog was formerly known as PHP Fog). Ignition’s Frank Artale will join the board. Also participating were Madrona and Seattle’s Founder’s Co-op, along with First Round Capital.


Presage Adds $1.5M

Seattle-based Presage Biosciences, a spinoff from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has raised $1.6 million out of a new equity financing that could be worth as much as $10.5 over time, according to a regulatory filing. The document doesn’t say who is backing the company, although it says the round includes 20 investors. Presage, which has previously raised at least $4 million, has developed a tool that drugmakers are using to get a better sense of which experimental drugs are likely to succeed in clinical trials.

Lighter Capital: $500K Up for Grabs

Lighter Capital, Seattle’s newly rebranded revenue-based financing startup, is trying to drum up more applications from “weird stuff that makes money” by promising it will lend up to $500,000 to at least one company that applies in August. The winner has to fit Lighter Capital’s requirements—generally speaking, companies that have “a proven revenue model and healthy gross margins.” Lighter Capital is led by CEO Andy Sack and VP Randall Lucas, who says the startup has invested more than $1.1 million in the past six months, and is on track to nearly double that pace.

Epigenomics Cutting Jobs, Moving East

Epigenomics, the Germany-based diagnostics company with its U.S. headquarters in Seattle, said today it is restructuring operations and planning to move its U.S. headquarters to the East Coast in 2012. The company said it plans to cut 39 jobs, and retain about 45 staff at the end of 2011. Epigenomics said it is making the moves as it prepares to introduce a new colorectal cancer diagnostic test.


Ignition Leads $10M in Apprenda

Bellevue, WA’s Ignition Partners continues its string of cloud computing investments since bringing on longtime software entrepreneur and executive Frank Artale. Today, the venture firm is leading a $10 million Series B round in Apprenda, a Clifton Park, NY-based company that sells cloud infrastructure software services. Artale, who has been an adviser to the company since its beginning, will join the board. Apprenda said previous investors New Enterprise Associates and High Peaks Venture Partners also participated. On his Twitter account, Artale also seemed to indicate that Apprenda would be opening a Redmond, WA office.

CEO Change at DocuSign

Keith Krach, chairman of Seattle electronic-signature company DocuSign, is also taking over chief executive duties. He replaces Steve King, who was named CEO in January 2010. Founder Tom Gonser is quoted in the company’s press release praising King, and King is on record praising Krach. The company didn’t give explicit reasons for the change, but noted that Krach took previous company Ariba public and would help DocuSign navigate higher growth. The company has raised in the neighborhood of $60 million over its lifespan, including a $27 million round in December 2010.


Zipline Adds Ex-Microsoft Games VP

Zipline Games, the Seattle startup behind the Moai platform for mobile games (and its own forthcoming casual game titles), is adding a game-industry heavyweight. Shane Kim, the former corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, is now a Zipline board member. CEO Todd Hooper also confirms that Zipline has added $400,000 in angel financing from existing investors, who include Founder’s Co-op, Benaroya Capital, and Groundspeak. The funding news was first reported by John Cook at GeekWire.

Cooley Adds IP Lawyers From Seed

Cooley, the national law firm that serves tech, cleantech, and biotech companies, said today that three new attorneys have joined its Seattle office as partners in its intellectual property practice. Bill Christiansen, Emily Wagner, and Carol Laherty moved over to Cooley from Seed IP, where they represented many of the West Coast’s leading biotech companies.

PivotLink Collects $8.1M

PivotLink, a business intelligence software firm with offices in San Francisco and Bellevue, WA, has collected $8.1 million in an equity-based financing round that could go as high as $10.3 million, according to an August 4 regulatory filing. The company, formerly known as SeaTab Software, raised $10 million in Series C funding in February 2009. Backers then included StarVest Partners, Trident Capital, and Emergence Capital.


OncoGenex Drops on Trial Delay

Bothell, WA-based OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OGXI) saw its stock tumble $3.25, or more than 26 percent, to $8.90 in mid-day trading today after issuing its quarterly financial update. The company reported yesterday that a pivotal clinical trial of its lead prostate cancer drug candidate, custirsen, has been dogged by slow patient enrollment. OncoGenex said it is awaiting word from the FDA on an amendment to the study protocol, which it hopes will speed up enrollment, by allowing patients to get either docetaxel or a new drug from Sanofi called cabazitaxel (Jevtana) in their second round of therapy. The enrollment delay means OncoGenex now expects study results in the fourth quarter of 2013, instead of by the second quarter of 2013.


IDRI Adds Dealmaker

The Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute said today it has hired Erik Iverson, a former associate general counsel for global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to fill a newly-created position of executive vice president of business development and external affairs. Iverson will work to create proprietary programs, and form partnerships, to advance the institute’s work on new vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics. Iverson “brings tremendous experience and relationships, along with a deep commitment to our global health mission,” IDRI CEO Stewart Parker said in a statement.

Emergence Leads Janrain Round

San Mateo, CA-based Emergence Capital, an investment fund focused purely on Software-as-a-Service companies, is the lead investor in a $15.5 million Series B financing round announced today for Janrain of Portland, OR. Existing investors Anthem Venture Partners, DFJ Frontier, RPM Ventures, Tim Draper, founder Larry Drebes, and Square 1 Bank also participated. Janrain makes single sign-on software that lets users log into various Web services using their social media credentials from Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The 60-employee company previously raised $3.25 million in 2009.

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