I never really sleep when I travel for work, so yes, I spent a few nights sleepless in Seattle. On behalf of ApoVax, Inc.
A colleague and I headed out to Seattle for Xconomy’s “The Immunex Impact” on Thursday, December 1. Another great event moderated by my man Luke Timmerman. It has been ten years since Immunex Corporation, Seattle’s first major biotech company, was acquired by Amgen Inc. Seattle has built a niche in immunotherapy, a lot stemming from Immunex.
Here are some takeaways from that trip, as it relates to ApoVax and Louisville.
We had dinner Wednesday night with David H. Lynch, Ph.D. David was Senior Staff Scientist, Department of Immunobiology at Immunex. I believe he said he was around the 100th employee. We got a preview of the next night’s Immunex stories! ApoVax is currently centered around a novel form of 4-1BBL, and David was effectively the 4-1BB/L guy at Immunex. Great guy and good discussion. We’ve invited him to join ApoVax’s Scientific Advisory Board. Our trip to Seattle got off to a nice start.
Thursday was a busy day, full of meetings leading up to the Xconomy event that evening.
We started the day at TapImmune Inc. [OTCBB: TPIV]. We’d had some introductory communication, but this was a good opportunity to meet in person with Glynn Wilson, Ph.D., Mark Reddish and Sherry Grisewood. TapImmune is doing some interesting things. There’s potential for some interesting collaboration.
Glynn was kind of enough to drop us off at our next stop–a meeting with “Mac” Cheever, M.D. at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Dr. Cheever actually introduced us to TapImmune. Dr. Cheever has been a leader in the field of immunotherapy for a long time and currently heads up the Cancer Immunotherapy Trials Network. He was also a leading scientist at Corixa Corporation, which developed the adjuvant MPL®. Dr. Cheever led an NCI immunotherapy agent workshop that ranked agents with high potential to serve as immunotherapeutic drugs; 4-1BB made the list. Needless to say, he had great feedback for us. [Interesting fact we didn't know in advance; Dr. Cheever was born in Louisville.]
Next stop was Accelerator Corporation. We met with Charlotte Hubbert and Carl Weissman. I’d previously had the opportunity to meet Charlotte, but, despite the fact we’ve talked by phone and exchanged many e-mails, had never met Carl. They were, as usual, gracious with their time. It may do them a disservice, but Accelerator is kind of like MetaCyte on steroids. Or, rather, MetaCyte is kind of like their Cousin Eddie. Yes, they’ve done quite a bit of stuff in ApoVax’s space. However, this was more of a general meeting, because I dig what they do. Without telling the secret signal, one takeaway for the ‘ville. Listen up, 201 E. Jefferson; people actually use Accelerator’s break room/kitchen area. Regularly Accelerator hosts “happy hours” where people in the community drop by just to see what’s happening. Entrepreneurs and investors looking for deals. People looking for jobs. Wow. What a cool culture. More on that in a moment.
Upon Carl’s recommendation, our next stop was Uneeda Burger. Good burger.
“The Immunex Impact” was held at the Institute for Systems Biology, current home of Leroy Hood, MD, Ph.D., biotechnology legend. ApoVax’s founder (Haval Shirwan, nee Ulker N.) did a postdoc with Dr. Hood back in his Caltech days. The event had over 250 attendees, from as far away as Georgia. Pretty amazing, I think. As noted, Immunex was Seattle’s first major biotech company. What’s cool is that Immunex (and Immunoids, as employees apparently were called) has begat… Dendreon Corporation, Oncothyreon Inc. and Immune Design Corp. are just a few examples of companies in Seattle with Immunex ties. Immunex really contributed to making Seattle the biotech hub it is today. And it is. As an outsider looking in, I could definitely feel an entrepreneurial life science community in Seattle. The good news, Louisville, is that a significant success like an Immunex can have a lasting impact. The downside, Louisville, is that we’ve got a ways to go. I realize this isn’t an overnight success scenario. My twelve years of experience doing this stuff will attest to that! And I’m sure folks in Seattle would say things are not perfect. But let’s face it, compared to the ‘ville, Seattle got it going on.
This was a productive trip. Time will tell if anything evolves for ApoVax directly. At a minimum, however, we furthered some very good relationships.
And if you can’t tell, I dig Seattle.