By Mary Welch
Northwest Biotherapeutics Inc. has the distinction of being one of the few biotechnology companies spun out from a hospital rather than a university or larger company.
"I don't want to say we're the only one or the first, but I have not heard of anyone else," said Daniel Wilds, president and CEO of the Seattle-based company. "Northwest Hospital and the Pacific Northwest Cancer Foundation were doing a lot with cancer, particularly prostate cancer, and hired people who were doing a lot of innovative things. The hospital decided in 1996 to form a company and spin it out. They also provided the $3 million in seed money. They saw the potential in the technology."
The association has other benefits as well. The hospital is a ready source of tissue samples and the cancer foundation has helped with patient referrals. "More than 1,000 people have been injected with the technology at the hospital in very early trials, which has been very helpful," Wilds said.
The company's founder and chief scientific officer is Alton Boynton, who was director of the Department of Molecular Medicine at Northwest Hospital. Before joining Northwest Biotherapeutics, Wilds was president and CEO of Shiloov Biotechnologies Inc., of Rehovot, Israel, a blood sample pretreatment company, and president of Baxter International's chemotherapy service division. The company currently has 40 employees.
Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBio) this week raised $5 million in an oversubscribed round of financing involving existing investors as well as 39 new ones. In the past six months the company has raised more than $13 million.
"I think the investors believed in what we were targeting," he said. "For men with end-stage, mestastatic prostate cancer, there aren't a lot of options. And the last year or so is very painful because it metastasizes in the bone. When we go out raising money, it almost is like a public service speech talking about prostate cancer. People just don't know much about it, [but] it's the second leading cause of male cancer-related deaths in the U.S. People are looking for new therapies."
NWBio has three primary areas of focus.
The first, a proprietary dendritic cell-based immunotherapy for prostate cancer, is in Phase I trials at two sites. About 60 patients will be enrolled and the trial should end in late summer. Among the endpoints are reduction of PSA levels, reduction of the spread of cancer in soft tissue and bone, and quality of life issues.
The company's immunotherapeutic approach is to stimulate the patient's own immune system to seek and destroy the cancer cells wherever they are in the body.
The second initiative is an extension of its dendritic cell-based immunotherapy platform to renal, brain and lung cancers. NWBio has developed proprietary cell isolation and processing technologies that may facilitate the application of dendritic cell-based immunotherapy to several forms of cancer including melanoma, multiple myeloma and B-cell lymphoma.
The third area is in localized prostate cancer, which affects more than 120,000 men in the U.S. each year. The company is collaborating with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory managed by Battelle Memorial Institute, of Columbus, Ohio, for the U.S. Department of Energy to perfect an improved, outpatient treatment alternative for localized prostate cancer. They are developing a polymer-based form of brachytherapy using a delivery medium that is liquid at room temperate and turns to a gel at body temperature.
"We think this will simplify administration of radioactive material and will result in more effective radioactive dosing of prostate cancer tissue," Wilds said.