September 26, 2022

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Life sciences news roundup: $175M for cell therapy; vaccine data; and more

3 min read


HDT Bio’s first Brazilian patient prepares to receive a shot in its COVID-19 vaccine trial in that country. (HDT Bio Photo)

It was another busy week in Seattle-area biotech.

Affini-T Therapeutics on Monday announced $ 175 million in initial funding. The company aims to move cell therapies developed at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center into the clinic to treat solid tumors.

The week ended with Icosavax posting data “below our expectations” on its COVID-19 vaccine, sending shares sinking.

Meanwhile, HDT Bio’s COVID-19 vaccine may be slowed for a different reason. The Seattle startup filed a lawsuit against its India-based vaccine partner, claiming that it stole its tech and refused to share clinical trial data. HDT Bio’s early trials in other countries continue.

Finally, the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design continues to invent new ways to make drugs. Read on for their latest study, and other news from the Pacific Northwest – including a list of digital startups in the mental health field.

Fred Hutch spinout Affini-T Therapeutics lands $ 175M for cell therapies to treat solid tumors

– Icosavax posts COVID-19 vaccine data ‘below our expectations’ as shares plummet more than 60%

Seattle startup claims India-based drugmaker stole COVID-19 vaccine tech, seeks $ 950M

Univ. of Washington researchers find a new way to design potential therapeutics

– A list of mental health startups in the Pacific Northwest, as pandemic fuels growth for the sector

Startup that aims to prevent tissue adhesions after surgery wins inaugural Apis health competition

Spirulina growing at Lumen Bioscience. (Lumen Photo)

And here’s other life sciences news from across the Pacific Northwest and beyond:

Studies:
  • Researchers from Lumen Bioscience showcase their platform for making biological drugs in the green algae Spirulina in a new study in Nature Biotechnology.
  • UW immunologist Marion Pepper and her colleagues looked at responses to COVID-19 vaccination in people who had previously been infected with the virus, showing that they produce more robust immunity than people protected only by the shots.
  • UW geneticist Evan Eichler and his colleagues released a study looking at “new” mutations that arise spontaneously in the genome. The researchers could improve detection by about 25% with their method.
Genomes:
  • A feature story in Nature by science journalist Roxanne Khamsi explores how Eichler and his colleagues are creating a reference human genome that accounts for human diversity. The project is dubbed the “Human Pangenome Project.”
  • In a separate project, the “All of Us” research program released nearly 100,000 whole genome sequences from diverse participants. The UW’s Northwest Genomics Center is one of three centers involved in the project. UW contributors include Eichler, geneticist Gail Jarvik and the late Deborah Nickerson.

Brains:

  • A podcast called Big Brains features UW professor Marco Pravetoni, who talks about his vaccine designed to counteract opioid addiction. Praventoni leads the new UW Center for Medication Development for Substance Use Disorders.
  • Another podcast features the Institute for Protein Design Director David Baker. The title of the show is “The communal brain.”
  • While on the brain theme, check out how the Allen Institute processes its samples of that organ, in this story from the organization.

Investment:

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently invested in Silicon Valley digital health company Notable, which makes patient scheduling tools and other software to simplify administrative healthcare tasks.

Vaccines and drugs:

  • As the Icosavax COVID-19 vaccine hits rough waters, another vaccine based on the same design has advanced through later-stage trials. The government of South Korea ordered 10 million doses in anticipation of its approval.
  • A new immune “checkpoint” drug got the nod from the US Food and Drug Administration. The agency approved relatlimab (a LAG-3 inhibitor) in combination with Opdivo for patients with metastatic melanoma or melanoma that cannot be treated with surgery. Both drugs are made by Bristol Myers Squibb, which does immuno-oncology R&D in the Seattle area. This story has some great background on the new drug.

Seattle-area response to Ukraine:

  • Some Washington biotech companies like Seagen and Absci are matching employee donations to Ukrainian humanitarian efforts. So is Seattle-based Phase Genomics, led by Ivan Liachko, who grew up in Kyiv. Bioprocess Online talks to Liachko about his efforts to mobilize the biotech community.





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