Latest life sciences news: COVID-19 nasal spray; disease reversal; Amazon’s Health Priorities

Health Innovation of the Year Finalists at this year’s GeekWire Awards.

This week we highlighted the health innovation finalists of the year at the GeekWire Awards.

The finalists showcase the power of science and innovation in the Pacific Northwest. That innovative streak was also on display this week as regional institutions and companies raised new funds, released new surveys and closed new deals.

Cell therapy and infectious disease took center stage, with corneal disease startup Aurion Biotech raising $120 million and the Access to Advanced Health Institute raising a $26 million donation to support vaccine research. Be Biopharma, a Boston spinout of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, has raised $130 million to support its work on B-cell immune therapies.

Stay tuned for all the latest news below, including links to research presented this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Cancer Research’s annual conference. And don’t forget to vote for our finalists in the Health Innovation and other categories at the GeekWire Awards.

UW Medicine CEO Paul Ramsey (second from left) is retiring this summer. He is also a longtime rower and supporter of UW Husky crew members, pictured here. (YOUR photo) From couch to bed: Can COVID-19 be treated with a simple nasal spray? A study involving researchers from the Institute for Protein Design at the UW shows the approach in mice. South Korea’s SK Bioscience is leading clinical development with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The new data builds on an earlier study. Seattle-based Chinook Therapeutics has initiated a phase 1 clinical trial for its liver-targeted drug to treat conditions involving excess oxalate in the urine, which can lead to kidney stones. Seagen’s drug Padcev has been approved by the European Commission for the treatment of certain patients with urothelial cancer. The drug is already available in the US and was developed with Astellas Pharma. More studies: Tumors rarely metastasize to skeletal muscle, but the reason is unclear. A study by Fred Hutch researchers provides an answer: “uncontrolled oxidative stress.” Altos Labs has come forward with a study that reprograms a 53-year-old woman’s skin cells to those of a 23-year-old in a test tube. Seattle biotech veterans Hans Bishop and Richard Klausner are founders of the California-UK-based disease reversal company, which has raised $3 billion. Financing and offers:

A human B cell. (NIH image) Be Biophama, a Boston-area company born out of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, has raised $130 million. The startup is developing B cells to produce a variety of bioactive proteins. GSK will buy Sierra Oncology for $1.9 billion in a deal that builds the biopharmaceutical giant’s hematology portfolio. Silicon Valley-based Sierra has a second site in Vancouver, BCWashington Research Foundation has awarded UW scientist Brian Kraemer $250,000 to investigate small molecules for Alzheimer’s disease, targeting the protein tau. Tech Moves: UW Medicine loses its old CEO. After 25 years at the helm, Paul Ramsey will retire on July 31.


Biotech-focused developer BioMed Realty paid $126.75 million for a 1.6-acre estate in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported. San Diego-based BioMed has several other properties in the region, including Tableau’s headquarters and the new Dexter Yard project. Health Tech: Amazon outlined its priorities for its healthcare team, in a letter from new team head Neil Lindsay. The priorities are: primary care, pharmacy, partnerships and technology. A health benefits platform company, Accolade, has signed a new partnership with Priority Health, the second largest health plan in Michigan. Accolade is based in Seattle and Philadelphia.

Stories and podcasts:

The new book by UW Professor Albert Folch. (Greg Cooksey and Albert Folch Cover Image) How are biomedical research and drug discovery changing with the advent of new AI-powered tools to predict protein folding? This editorial examines how scientists use AlphaFold and RoseTTAfold, developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design. Albert Folch, professor of bioscience engineering, talks about his new book on the microfluidic technology behind inkjet printers, 3D printers, COVID-19 testing and more, in this interview. Village Reach’s program to deliver vaccines via drones to remote areas of Sub-Saharan Africa is featured in Nature Medicine, along with similar drone delivery efforts. The US Food and Drug Administration has released a draft framework for enrolling more diverse participants in clinical trials. A new podcast features an interview with Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, where he talks about antibiotic-resistant infections, which affect more than 1 million people a year. Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Cancer Research:

Fred Hutch researcher Kristin Anderson. (Photo by Fred Hutch)

Dozens of presentations from researchers from the Seattle area were featured at the annual AACR meeting this week.

Kristin Anderson, a Fred Hutch investigator in the lab of incoming AACR President Phil Greenberg, presented preclinical data on a four-pronged immunotherapy approach to treating ovarian cancer, featured in STAT News. Other abstracts from Fred Hutch can be found here, and abstracts from Seattle Children’s Research Institute here.

Companies from the Seattle area that presented were: Seagen, Kineta, Sana Biotechnology, Lyell Immunopharma and NanoString Technologies.

More drama with Athira Pharma:

The graduate advisor to Leen Kawas, former CEO of Athira Pharma, wrote a letter on LinkedIn to support his former Washington State University student. Joseph Harding, the company’s co-founder and retired WSU professor, said Kawas’s resignation from Athira last fall “casts into doubt the company’s future.”

Kawas left Athira after a company-initiated investigation concluded that she had altered the data-containing images in her graduate studies articles, leading to the founding of the company in 2011. Harding said he learned in 2015 that Kawas had the data.” embellished”, but that it was “completely unimportant” to the research conclusions, and that he has emails from the journal rejecting attempts to republish re-created data.

Athira, which went public last year, expects findings from a phase 2 trial for Alzheimer’s disease soon.

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