Health/Life Sciences

Life sciences information: COVID-19 shot scientific knowledge, Invoice Gates on stopping the following pandemic

A COVID-19 vaccine designed and developed by Univ. of Washington researchers is studded with a key portion of a COVID-19 viral protein (in red). (UW Institute for Protein Design / Ian Haydon)

The week in life sciences in the Pacific Northwest started with disappointing data for Eliem Therapeutics. Its lead compound failed to show benefit in a clinical trial for diabetic neuropathic pain, sending its stock plummeting.

But the Seattle-based company has some more candidates in the wings. “We continue to be excited about the potential of our pipeline of drug candidates in multiple neuronal excitability disorders,” said CEO Bob Azelby in a statement.

The week ended with positive phase 3 clinical data for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by University of Washington researchers, poised for distribution in South Korea. Read on for this and other news from the Pacific Northwest.

Eliem Therapeutics shares sink more than 50% after lead program fails to show benefit in clinic

Studies on respiratory infections, type 1 diabetes, boosted with $17M to Benaroya Research Institute

Investment firm offers to buy Vancouver, B.C.-based biotech Zymeworks for $733M in cash

New members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, from left: Harmit Malik, Fred Hutch; Caroline (Carrie) Harwood, UW; Rachel Klevit, UW; Steven Henikoff, Fred Hutch. (UW and Fred Hutch Photos)

UW COVID-19 vaccine:

  • The results are in from a phase 3 trial of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by UW researchers. South Korea-based SK Bioscience, which led the trial, reported that the shot was safe and yielded a stronger antibody response than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine; T cell responses were similar or higher. The South Korean government intends to purchase 10 million doses, in anticipation of regulatory approval there. The shot is simple to manufacture and stable without deep freezing, situating it for broad distribution. The UW is licensing the tech royalty-free through the pandemic.

Digital health and devices:

  • Digital Square, a group with Seattle nonprofit PATH, awarded $800,000 to 12 projects “to improve health outcomes and help close the health equity gap around the world.” Awardees include the UW Clinical Informatics Group, and funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Amazon Web Services will provide cloud computing credits as part of its $40 million program to reduce inequities in healthcare.
  • Kestra Medical Technologies published findings on its wearable defibrillator to reduce sudden cardiac arrests. The device, which won FDA approval last summer, showed a low rate of false alarms in the study, led by UW Medicine physician Jeanne Poole. The Kirkland, Wash. startup also took home third place an annual trade group competition for medical devices, in the cardiovascular category.


  • A study of people with a precancerous condition sheds light on the gene changes that may predict progression to cancer years later. Damage to the gene TP53 in cells of the esophagus was associated with progression to cancer in people with the condition, Barrett’s esophagus. Both chromosomal copies of TP53, a classic cancer-associated gene, were damaged. The study was led by researchers at Fred Hutch.
  • A new study of electronic health records assesses which factors may predict severe illness in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Lab tests, vital signs and the need for supplemental oxygen were more important than factors like chronic conditions or body mass index, challenging current thinking. The research was led by the Institute for Systems Biology and included researchers at Swedish Providence and other institutions.
  • A model of COVID-19 transmission in jails assesses the effects of various interventions on incarcerated people and the wider community. “Operating in a business-as-usual way results in substantial, rapid, and ongoing loss of life,” concluded the study. First author is Washington State University epidemiologist Eric Lofgren.

Trends and TED talks:

  • Bill Gates wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal outlining how to prevent the next pandemic, following a recent TED talk on the subject. He suggests building a “Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization” team, also a subject in his upcoming book.
  • An essay by Seattle biotech researcher Jocelynn Pearl, “A guide to decentralized biotech,” examines trends such as remote work and the growth of startups with operations in more than one location.

Tech Moves:

  • The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has two new members from the UW, Caroline (Carrie) Harwood and Rachel Klevit, and two from Fred Hutch, Harmit Malik and his former mentor Steve Henikoff.  “I’m Steve’s former trainee and current junior colleague, so this should count twice for him!” said Malik in a Hutch post announcing the honor.
  • TwinStrand Biosciences has a new chief commercial officer, Goran Pljevaljcic, and Shape Therapeutics has new board members from the tech world, Gayathri Rajan and Kelly Sims.

Real Estate:

  • Biotech-focused developer BioMed Realty bought a 156,000 square foot building, currently leased by Meta, in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The building is “lab capable,” according to a press release from the developer, which did not provide information about its plans. The acquisition comes on the heels of a 1.65 acre purchase nearby by the company and brings its total office and lab space in the city to 1.4 million square feet.

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