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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

In my last post I wrote about the demise of VLST and the majority of other companies started at Accelerator and how no one was invited to their funeral. The local news organizations do not see fit to report on this kind of news. When a new company begins there is a sense of joy and hope for a brighter future. More companies means more jobs and that should snowball into a major biotech hub in Seattle. We hope we are not witnessing more foolish investments akin to the dot com era. Perhaps we just have a preference for good news. In order to truly experience reality however, you have to acknowledge bad news as well.

The latest silent departure is Marina Biotech. Long ago they were known as Nastech and ruled over by a mean old man named Steven Quay. He terrorized his secretaries, subjected his scientific staff to pop quizes in freshmen chemistry, and organized an entire days worth of work for several high and low ranking admin people to ensure that he never ever again ran out of Equal in the breakroom. He turned hundreds of millions of dollars of investor money into... several millions of dollars. He made Jim Cramer of Mad Money look like a fool for recommending Nastech, prompting Cramer to issue an apology to his followers. When the final curtain was about to fall Quay gave his usual quarterly report, "All is well, just keep giving us money. Big plans in the works folks..." To which one major investor responded, "Quite frankly, we don't believe you anymore."

Don't worry folks, if you still want in on a Quay company, here you go.

Yesterday it was announced that the remnants of this multi hundred million dollar mistake is leaving town. Marina Biotech According to the RNAi Therapeutics Blog:

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.  Through the assignment of the patents, Arcturus stands to collect the milestone and royalty streams from Marina’s existing licensees.  This includes Tekmira which in its quarterly filing disclosed this week that it would have to pay $3,250,000 in milestones plus single-digit royalties for the technology.  Although these numbers pale in comparison to what Alnylam has asked for RNAi trigger licenses in the past, this suggests that the undisclosed financials and likely upfront payment by Arcturus should have been substantial for a company like Marina…at least enough to continue to pay its patent prosecution and other bills. 
How Arcturus paid for it is unclear to me given that its first significant capital raise involved merely $1.3M.   
It's not clear to me what is left of Marina to move to MA. Xconomy reported the end of day to day operations in June 2012, The Seattle Times reported in August of 2012 that Marina slashed board members down to 3. The news of their death rattle here in Seattle ends there. Like VLST, Marina Biotech ceased to be, at least in our new world of cyber media. Micheal French, President and CEO of Marina has resurfaced in the media on the east coast. The Boston Business Journal picked up the story. Marketwire got the story. Xconomy Seattle, The Seattle PI, and the Seattle Times have yet to mention this little story. Michael French, releaser of press, is proud to announce his arrival in Boston, not so much his departure in Seattle.
“The Arcturus deal along with the extension of our secured note provides us additional runway to pursue both collaboration transactions and financing opportunities in order to fund our operations and advance our clinical and preclinical programs,” French added.
Why focus on the past?  We here at the CCS tend to think that the past is important. It is not likely that the hundreds of millions of dollars and ten years of research at Nastech/Marina was all wasted. It is more likely that no matter how hard they tried, they just couldn't hammer that square peg through the round hole. Over time, people became tired of throwing money into the projects. The scientific staff, the most experienced human beings on the planet with Marina technology, were sacked over a year ago. It's not as though the talent pool in Boston was the missing link. And if it was, how on earth did the geniuses at Nastech originate something that only Boston scientists can finish? A collaboration between scientists who have never and will never meet for one single conversation?

But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So
I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the
apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but
they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.
Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing.
But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea
Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some
wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling
them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one
feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science.
That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying
science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just
hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific

This little Cargo Cult company can show up in a new town with a new plan, but they have the same old crap they left town with. The same old crap that was known as Nastech/Marina Biotech. Xconomy and the Seattle newspapers can ignore it but another one has bit the dust. What will this town look like in ten years?

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