Health/Life Sciences

Life sciences roundup: A reborn institute, a long-COVID research, and responses to the struggle on Ukraine

Ivan Liachko, CEO of Phase Genomics, growing up in Kyiv. Phase is matching employee contributions to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. (Photos courtesy of Ivan Liachko)

A decades-old Seattle research institution was released from court oversight this week; investigators launched a clinical trial to study long-COVID; and dozens of students showcased their health innovations at a University of Washington competition.

Those are just some of the recent happenings across life sciences and health tech in the Pacific Northwest. In a week dominated by the attack on Ukraine by Russia, companies are also beginning to respond.

Below we highlight some of our coverage and additional stories:

  • Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute was reborn as the Access to Advanced Health Institute (AAHI), after paying off debts under oversight of a court-appointed receiver.
  • As Washington prepares to lift its mask mandate March 12, patients began to enroll in a multi-institutional study of long-COVID as part of a national effort to identify causes and treatments. Meanwhile, A-Alpha Bio received $1.1 million to help find antibodies to COVID-19 variants.
  • The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is deploying new tools to detect fentanyl variants to address another public health challenge, the opioid epidemic.
  • At the University of Washington, students won prizes for a variety of health innovations, including a safer urinary catheter, a pulse oximeter for all skin colors, and a stent for gastrointestinal surgery.
UW’s Team InSTENT took home first prize at the UW’s Hollomon Health Challenge. From left: Ziming (Jimmy) Ye, Brandon Lou, Gillian Pereira, Evan Ross and Clara Black. (UW Photo)
  • Tech companies have hefty economic leverage, and Seattle-area companies including Microsoft, Remitly, and Expedia announced they are curtailing or cutting back business in Russia. Some biotech companies are also taking action. In a roundup of Seattle-area business responses, we highlight how Phase Genomics is matching employee contributions for humanitarian efforts. “Those of us in biotech believe in, and build a better future. When a madman tries to tear down a country’s future, we act. Please consider donating to humanitarian causes,” said CEO Ivan Liachko in a tweet. Seagen is also matching employee donations, a spokesperson told GeekWire Friday.
  • Biotech leaders nationally have signed on to a letter of support for Ukraine, including the CEOs of Seattle-area companies Seagen, Silverback Therapeutics, Sonoma Biotherapeutics, OncoResponse, Chinook Therapeutics, Alpine Immune Sciences and Icosavax. The letter pledges a halt to trade with Russia, except for food and medicines, among other measures. California-based Gilead Sciences has donated $3 million to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, in addition to more than $300,000 raised by employees in its matching campaign.
  • Some companies see such efforts simply as good corporate governance — and they can make a difference, said Russia expert Fiona Hill in a recent interview. At Nature, reporters are covering the response of Ukrainian scientists and the global life sciences community.  
The late Harold M. Weintraub, a Fred Hutch investigator.
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center recognized 13 graduate students for exceptional research. This year’s Harold M. Weintraub award international cohort had one Seattle-area awardee: Fred Hutch’s Sarah Valente, who studied why cancer metastases rarely take hold in muscle.
  • You can now summon a medical professional on Amazon’s Echo smart speakers. Teladoc has paired up with Amazon to offer non-emergency medical care. Just say, “Alexa, I want to talk to a doctor.”
  • One day it may be possible to detect Alzheimer’s disease with a blood test. A test under development by Seattle biotech AltPep received breakthrough device designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week, enabling it to receive prioritized FDA review on its quest for approval.
The protein PIE-1 is shown in green on the posterior side of the one-cell embryo. The protein provides instructions to the embryo, directing the fate of cells that give rise to sperm and eggs. Other key proteins in orange and purple, DNA in blue. (Priess Lab Image)
  • Fred Hutch investigator James Priess won the $500,000 annual Gruber Genetics Prize, along with the MIT’s Ruth Lehmann and John Hopkins’ Geraldine Seydoux, for research uncovering molecular mechanisms of early embryo development. Studying the nematode C. elegans, Priess and his colleagues identified several factors that instruct early embryonic cells what to become, such as muscle or intestine.
  • Fred Hutch researchers published a way to insert an RNA kill switch into cancer cells. The RNA kills only cancer cells that have specific defects in a process called splicing, thereby sparing healthy cells.

Upcoming events:

  • Life Science Washington’s Fast Pitch Showdown: apply by March 15 to showcase your company in 60 seconds at Life Science Washington’s annual conference April 20-21.
  • Science Talk is planned as a hybrid online and in person conference in Portland, Ore., March 23-25. The meeting “unites science communicators, practitioners, and facilitators.”

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