Monday, April 30, 2012

ChemoCentryx adds Pfizer's Feczko to board

ChemoCentryx Inc. said Monday it has added retired Pfizer Inc. executive Joseph Feczko to its board of directors, effective immediately. The Mountain View-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company (NASDAQ:CCXI) said Feczko was the senior vice president and chief medical officer of Pfizer and member of its executive leadership team with global responsibilities for all aspects of the company's medical, regulatory and safety activities. He retired in May 2009.

Friday, April 27, 2012

One-on-One with Science Exchange's Elizabeth Iorns

Breast cancer researcher Elizabeth Iorns found the process of farming out experiments frustrating and inefficient, so she started a company. In roughly eight months since it graduated from the Y Combinator incubator in Mountain View, Science Exchange has grown to some 5,000 registered users and more than 1,000 core facilities in its network. As I wrote in September, Science Exchange is creating an online marketplace, a sort of Ebay for researchers, institutions and companies that have time or equipment to spare. The effort last month won Iorns, the co-founder and CEO of the Palo Alto company, the 2012 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Emerging Postdoctoral Entrepreneur award. I spoke again recently with Iorns about Science Exchange’s growth and its projections.

Jazz to buy EUSA Pharma for $650M cash

Jazz Pharmaceuticals plc said Thursday it is planning to acquire a private specialty pharmaceutical company, EUSA Pharma Inc., which has headquarters in the United States and the United Kingdom. Jazz, which has an office in Palo Alto (NASDAQ:JAZZ), is paying $650 million in cash, plus a potential milestone payment of $50 million in cash based on EUSA's lead product meeting an undisclosed, specified U.S. net sales target in 2013. The product is a life-saving treatment for a form of leukemia that primarily affects children.

Buoyed by partner, Xoma now at center of takeover talk

(San Francisco Business Times subscription required.) Xoma Corp.’s latest promise may be its last. The Berkeley biotech drug developer — long on expectations, but short on delivering its own drugs to market — over the past eight months has brought on new leadership and cut costs. What’s more, a year-old partnership is helping to turn a once-failed drug toward a wide array of other uses. But where that partner, Les Laboratoires Servier, has given Xoma a measure of stability since a high-profile diabetes drug failure last year, the collaboration also has fueled speculation that the French drug maker ultimately will buy Xoma. Those rumors have sent Xoma’s stock price soaring more than 170 percent from a 52-week low to about $2.85 per share. Excuse Xoma shareholders, however, if they get a queasy been-there/done-that vibe when it comes to Xoma’s plans.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Transcept seeks $37M from stock offering

Transcept Pharmaceuticals Inc. would use some of the $37.6 million it hopes to net from a public stock offering to sell its FDA-approved middle-of-the-night sleep drug and to move forward with a drug for obsessive compulsive disorder. Transcept priced the offering of 4.5 million shares at $9 per share.

Onyx multiple myeloma drug to face FDA advisory panel June 20

Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s cancer drug carfilzomib must face a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, the company said Thursday. South San Francisco-based Onyx (NASDAQ: ONXX) said the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee will meet June 20 to discuss carfilzomib, a drug aimed at patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma who have received at least two prior therapies. The FDA, which is not required to follow the committee’s recommendation, is scheduled to make its decision on carfilzomib on July 27.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Report: Bayer closing in on takeover of drug partner Onyx

Drug developer Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s stock closed up 9 percent on rumors that longtime partner Bayer AG will soon close a deal to buy the South San Francisco biotech company. Bayer is zeroing in on a large acquisition, Reuters reported Wednesday. One source told the news agency that Marjin Dekkers, CEO of the German drug maker, is “keen to do something and it could happen within the next couple of days.” Folks who watch for mergers and acquisitions like Kremlinologists during the Cold War translated that to mean an Onyx deal is brewing on the eve of the local company’s 20th anniversary. “It’s speculation and rumors,” Onyx spokeswoman Lori Melancon said Wednesday. “We just don’t comment on market rumors.”

Nodality loses leader to NEA as diagnostics model morphs

Growing diagnostic test developer Nodality Inc. is losing its first CEO, but the venture capital world is gaining another experienced life sciences entrepreneur. Dr. David Parkinson will join New Enterprise Associates as a venture partner. He initially will be interim chief medical officer of NEA-backed Zyngenia Inc., a young Gaithersburg, Md., company targeting cancer and autoimmune diseases. Parkinson leaves Nodality -- named “Most Promising Company” at the Personalized Medicine World Congress last year -- as the 40-person South San Francisco company forges ahead with a hybrid strategy of selling its tests into clinics and striking deals with drug developers. In the face of changes in the medical diagnostics industry, it’s a model that just might be used by more companies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

IMS Health to buy clinical trials enrollment software company DecisionView

IMS Health will buy DecisionView, a San Francisco software company focusing on clinical enrollment, the companies said Tuesday. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. DecisionView, which has about 40 employees, sells software to clinical trials organizations that help them plan, forecast and track patient enrollment. It has zeroed in on life science companies, which are charged on a per-trial basis for a web-based product, called StudyOptimizer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pleasanton's IntegenX buys GE subsidiary

IntegenX Inc. will buy a wholly owned subsidiary of GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences, a move that the Pleasanton-based company said will help its DNA identification system get to market sooner. Financial terms of the deal around the intellectual property and the patent portfolio held by General Electric Co. subsidiary SV Corp. were not disclosed.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Pitch: Evena Medical device taps new vein of medical imaging

Evena Medical Inc. has developed technology that lets medical workers use digital imaging to see veins in a way that it says increases patient safety and reduces possible medical liability. The system is designed to interface with patient electronic medical records. The first product is targeted at hospitals, but Evena is also working on a head-mounted display for use by the U.S. Army.

23andMe makes genetics videos for Khan Academy

Online teaching website Khan Academy is showing two genetics education video series made by personal genetics company 23andMe Inc.
The two organizations teamed up to celebrate “DNA Day,” which marks the date in 1953 when James Watston and Francis Crick and their colleagues published Nature articles on the double helix structure of DNA.
The videos are titled Genetics 101 and Human Prehistory 101.

Peter Thiel-backed program boosts 'breakout' companies

Tanya Jones wanted to find a way to improve the odds for transplant patients, and knew the cooling methods she was developing to help preserve organs had to move out of a friend’s barn in Phoenix.
“You can imagine doing organ work in a stable – it’s a dusty environment,” said Jones, co-founder and CEO of Arigos Biomedical. “So now we’ve upgraded to a garage.”
Soon, Arigos will move into lab space in Mountain View, boosted by funding from a new program called Breakout Labs. There, the startup plans to move its technology beyond the idea stage and prove it works. That way, transplant recipients will have the time to get an organ from across the world, if necessary, and an organ that’s not a perfect match for a transplant can be saved for someone who will need it later.
Arigos is one of six companies in the initial class from Breakout Labs, a new initiative through the San Francisco-based Thiel Foundation. The initiative, backed by Paypal founder and investor Peter Thiel, aims to give small amounts of funding to very early stage science startups. The premise is that just a little bit of money can help get these early startups to their first milestones, aided by the prestige of a high-profile investor. The hope is this will help the company raise more money in the future.

J&J 'bridges the gap,' funds promising QB3 research

(San Francisco Business Times subscription required.)
Two projects — including one aimed at developing an artificial pancreas that would eliminate daily injections by diabetes patients — garnered funding from health care giant Johnson & Johnson to turn science ideas into companies.
The projects are the first Bridging the Gap Awards supported by J&J through a program with the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3.
The awards of up to $250,000 over two years are meant to give researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz funding to prove that their projects are viable. The ultimate goal is to form companies around those projects, said Neena Kadaba, QB3’s director of industry alliances.

UCSF vs. brain diseases: Labs, patients meet at new $200M neuroscience center

(San Francisco Business Times subscription required.)
UCSF’s plan for blending bench research and treating real-life patients is coming together as labs and new science recruits move into a $200 million, 237,000-square-foot neuroscience center.
The product of a unique private-public partnership, the five-story Mission Bay structure eventually will house 600 University of California, San Francisco, employees, including 86 investigators and their labs. That will place them within steps of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other brain and nervous system disorders as they try to develop drugs, devices and diagnostic tests.
“We hope to make remarkable progress,” said Nobel laureate Dr. Stanley Prusiner, a UCSF neurology professor, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and a driving force behind the building.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

One-on-One with UCSF researcher Jonah Chan

One of the oft-mentioned bridges across biotech’s “valley of death” -- that space in which promising technologies are just too new to win the funding necessary to take them to the next stage of development -- is disease foundations, patient advocacy groups and philanthropy.
In fact, last month’s CalBio conference by the state’s two premier biotech trade groups, BayBio and BioCom, focused on promoting collaborations between medical research and disease foundations and biotech drug developers. Folks in the industry point, for example, to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s partnership with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. to develop Kalydeco and two other drugs in development, or various company programs backed by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Often, though, disease foundations make an impact much earlier in the research process, especially as National Institutes of Health funding becomes increasingly scarce. That is where the Myelin Repair Foundation is active in trying to accelerate research in neurological diseases.
Among the researchers backed by the Saratoga-based foundation are Dr. Stephen Miller, a Northwestern University who expects to start a proof-of-concept trial in multiple sclerosis, and Dr. Jonah Chan, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, whose lab is screening compounds that may repair the central nervous system damage that accompanies multiple sclerosis.
The MRF started financing Chan’s work in January.
Chan also have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Baxter Family Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
I spoke recently with Chan about his research, alternative sources of funding and when the work of his eight-person lab might lead to an MS drug.

Slideshow: UCSF's stunning neuroscience building coming online

If nothing else, University of California, San Francisco, neuroscience researchers will have a stunning building in which they do stunning science.
Starting this month and over the next couple of months, researchers will be moving into a $200 million, 237,000-square-foot building that blends research and some clinical space to treat patients with various brain and central nervous system disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Cytokinetics ALS drug wins 'fast track' designation

Cytokinetics Inc.’s experimental drug to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, won fast-track designation from the Food and Drug Administration, the company said Thursday.
The drug, CK-2017357, is only in Phase II, but the fast-track status makes the drug eligible for a rolling review of a new drug application, accelerated approval and more frequent meetings with the FDA, all of which could shave months off the approval process.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Five Prime strikes deal with GSK for asthma, COPD drugs

Five Prime Therapeutics Inc., a South San Francisco-based biotechnology company, has entered into a drug discovery collaboration with U.K.-based biotechnology giant GlaxoSmithKline — the second collaboration of its kind between the two companies.
The collaboration will give GlaxoSmithKline exclusive access to therapeutic drugs developed by Five Prime for refractory asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Research Track: Gladstone scientists make beating cardiac cells inside the heart

Beating heart muscle can be converted quickly and efficiently from other cardiac cells by directly injecting three genes into areas damaged by a heart attack, according to researchers at the J. David Gladstone Institutes.
The research, published online Wednesday by the journal Nature, could transform the treatment of heart attacks since heart muscle doesn’t naturally regenerate. What’s more, the method could sidestep the use of stem cells to regenerate heart muscle, a field led by San Francisco-based Gladstone.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs funds first 6 startups, including 3 in Bay Area

Breakout Labs, a new program from the Thiel Foundation that aims to fund very early-stage science startups, announced its first six grantees Tuesday.
The companies, which are from across the country, range from one that’s trying to develop 3-D digital reconstruction of brain tissue to another that’s developing handheld devices to monitor the air for pathogens, toxins and allergens.
The companies receive only small amounts of funding — up to $350,000. Breakout Labs leaders say it’s enough to get the companies to their first milestones and begin to prove their concepts work.
(Read more about Breakout Labs here.)

Stem cell agency CIRM earmarks $30M to woo biopharma, VCs

A $30 million effort from California’s stem cell research funding agency will dole out awards to help biotech or pharmaceutical companies or venture capital firms take research into early clinical trials.
The program, announced Tuesday, represents the closest collaboration to date between the San Francisco-based California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the biopharma industry and venture capital.
The three or more Strategic Partnership Awards would provide up to $10 million each. Successful applicants must match those funds, either dollar-for-dollar or by providing in-kind services like manufacturing and product development.
CIRM's vision is to tap the product development expertise of the companies and venture capitalists to move therapies or cures for a wide range of diseases closer to Food and Drug Administration approval.

Device maker Intersect ENT grows with move to Menlo Park

Intersect ENT Inc. will move from Palo Alto to new headquarters in Menlo Park, quadrupling its space as it commercializes its device to treat chronic sinusitis.
The 32,000-square-foot facility at 1555 Adams Drive will house all business and manufacturing operations for Propel, a stent that is placed in the sinus cavities right after sinus surgery. The device keeps the sinuses open and releases corticosteroid over a period of time before dissolving.

UC HIV program funds 3 prevention projects using Gilead's Truvada

A controversial prevention strategy to treat people at high risk of contracting the AIDS virus with Gilead Sciences Inc.’s Truvada was awarded $11.8 million from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program of the University of California.
Two research teams over the next four years will offer Truvada, counseling and other services to 700 men who have sex with men and to transgender women in Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach. A third team in Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley and other East Bay locations will plan a project for young men of color who have sex with men.
It is the largest demonstration project in the United States in pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and “TLC+,” a program meant to “locate, engage and retain HIV-infected people in care and start them on life-saving treatment for HIV infection,” according to the University of California.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hyperion's IPO a model for biotech — and that's not all good

Hyperion Therapeutics Inc.’s planned $57.5 million IPO is a story of risk, potential reward and even a hint of desperation.
It is a familiar story of Bay Area biotech initial public offerings, which have been far and few between in the past couple of years. In fact, Hyperion’s back story is not very different from that of Novato’s Raptor Pharmaceutical Corp.: young company, improved drug, small patient population and, possibly, a product on the market by early next year.
But there are some twists and turns in Hyperion’s tale — including one that might catch the interest of federal antitrust investigators.

Friday, April 13, 2012

CIRM's $3 billion question: Will stem cell bets pay off?

(San Francisco Business Times subscription required for full article.)
In the Buck Institute for Age Research’s gleaming $36.5 million stem cell research facility, which opens April 14 in Novato, scientists will seek ways to use stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease and regenerate cells to restore sight to glaucoma patients.
It is the type of work that many California voters envisioned in 2004 when they approved Proposition 71, the $3 billion bond issue that supported the creation of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
But even as the San Francisco-based stem cell research funding agency nears the halfway point of its life, and the 11th of 12 CIRM-backed major facilities comes on line, the future of the agency itself isn’t quite as clear.
Without stem cell treatments or cures for cancers, diabetes or some other high-profile malady, voters are unlikely to approve a follow-on bond measure, if CIRM seeks one. CIRM leaders haven’t yet settled on how to carry on the agency’s mission after the last of Prop. 71’s funds are turned over to CIRM in five years. Proposals have included a venture philanthropy fund or corporate support that would take potential treatments into mid-stage clinical trials.

Hyperion Therapeutics seeks $57.5 million from rare biotech IPO

Hyperion Therapeutics Inc., a South San Francisco biotech company developing drugs against metabolic disorders, will seek $57.5 million in an initial public offering.
Hyperion’s filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission is significant because biotech IPOs have been far and few between, especially in the Bay Area, over the past four years.
Hyperion, led by CEO Don Santel, said it would use the net proceeds to fund clinical development, win regulatory approval and launch Ravicti, its experimental treatment for urea cycle disorders and hepatic encephalopathy.
It also plans to use the money to repay up to $22 million of a potential loan from Ucyclyd Pharma Inc., a subsidiary of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. (NASDAQ: MRX), over eight quarters, make milestone, royalty and license payments to Ucyclyd and Brusilow Enterprises LLC, and for general corporate purposes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Diagnostics and monitoring company Theranos takes 220,000 square feet in Newark

Theranos Inc. is moving its headquarters to Newark from Palo Alto.
The company recently signed a 220,000-square-foot lease in Pacific Research Center, a 10-building, 1.4 million-square-foot complex owned by San Diego-based BioMed Realty Trust.
The company plans to move its headquarters and manufacturing operations to Pacific Research Center, said Terrence Grindall, Newark’s head of community development.

Depomed moving from Menlo Park to Newark

The specialty pharmaceutical company Depomed Inc. is moving from Menlo Park to the Pacific Research Center in Newark.
Depomed (NASDAQ: DEPO) signed a 10-year lease with BioMed Realty Trust Inc. for approximately 60,000 square feet of space.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amgen to buy KAI Pharmaceuticals for $315M cash

Amgen Inc. will buy privately held KAI Pharmaceuticals Inc. of South San Francisco for $315 million cash.
It is the first Bay Area acquisition by the world’s largest biotech company (NASDAQ: AMGN), based in Thousand Oaks, since a slew of buyouts the previous decade.
KAI’s lead drug is in Phase II trials for hyperparathyroidism in patients with chronic kidney disease, but Amgen said it would provide a loan for planning of a Phase III trial prior to the deal closing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

One-on-One with Raptor Pharmaceutical CEO Chris Starr

For every biotech company with more than a dozen years under its belt and $1 billion or more burned — and still no drug on the market — there’s a Raptor Pharmaceutical Corp.
OK, maybe not. There are many more companies that have slaved for years toward bringing a drug to market than there are speedy companies like Novato-based Raptor (NASDAQ: RPTP).
The 18-employee was founded a mere six years ago by a couple of BioMarin Pharmaceutical research veterans, Chris Starr and Todd Zankel. It has netted $111.5 million from fundraising and it could have its first drug approved by the end of the year. It filed a new drug application, or NDA, last month with the Food and Drug Administration.
Raptor’s RP-103, however, is no blockbuster. It is a delayed-release version of cysteamine, a drug approved in the 1990s to extend the lives of the fewer than 1,000 patients worldwide with the potentially fatal orphan disease cystinosis. Many of those patients are infants who, if they don’t take the drug, lose kidney function, require a kidney transplant and often die by the time they are teenagers.
I spoke with Starr about the drug, cystinosis and the company’s steady march toward a drug approval.

Friday, April 6, 2012

SciClone Pharmaceuticals loses chief medical officer, director

Dr. Israel Rios quit as chief medical officer of SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc. on Friday, and Trevor Jones quit the company’s board of directors.
Foster City-based SciClone (NASDAQ: SCLN) said Rios left his job because the company is “winding down” product development work in the United States.
Jones, who’s been on SciClone’s board of directors since March 2009, quit because he was too busy with other work to keep up with his board responsibilities. He won’t be replaced, and the company’s board will shrink to seven members as a result.

UC Santa Cruz robotics professor enlists universities' help

A University of California, Santa Cruz researcher has taken an unusual step and forged an open-source arrangement with a number of leading universities nationwide in an effort to further develop his robotic surgery system.
Jacob Rosen, associate professor in the department of computer engineering at the Baskin School of Engineering at the UC Santa Cruz, has distributed his Raven II surgical robot to researchers at UCLA, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Nebraska and the University of California, Berkeley. He said open-source agreements between universities are common in software research, but not with hardware. This project will apply to both.

Compugen zeroes in on computational biology, cancer drugs

Compugen Inc. is betting that its algorithms — and the hiring of two Bay Area antibody drug veterans — add up to new treatments for cancer and other diseases that send the body’s immune system awry.
The South San Francisco-based U.S. subsidiary of the Israeli company Compugen Ltd. hired Mary Haak-Frendscho, formerly president and CEO of Takeda San Francisco, as executive chairman. John Hunter, most recently in charge of preclinical monoclonal antibody research at Berkeley’s Xoma Corp., was hired as site head and vice president of antibody R&D.
In all, Compugen will have a staff of 10 by the end of the year, Haak-Frendscho said, but will hire quickly.

Biotech hopefuls pile into the Box

QB3’s Startup in a Box is bursting.
Unwrapped roughly six months ago with the goal of helping 15 wannabe entrepreneurs per year convert their science ideas into actual companies, the program already has 36 clients.
“We’ve hit an untapped vein,” said Douglas Crawford, associate director of QB3, or the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, the University of California-based initiative linking life sciences researchers and companies.
Now, Crawford said, the goal is to help 50 entrepreneurs-in-waiting this year cut through the financial and legal barriers for starting new companies.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bio-Rad co-founder, chairman David Schwartz dies at 88

David Schwartz, co-founder and chairman of one of the Bay Area’s oldest life sciences and family-run companies, Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., died Sunday, the company said. He was 88.
Schwartz and his wife, Alice, founded Bio-Rad, a Hercules-based maker of research and clinical diagnostic products (NYSE: BIO), in Berkeley in 1952. The company remains family run despite growing into a publicly traded and profitable operation that last year registered net income of $178.2 million on sales of more than $2 billion.

Monday, April 2, 2012

StemCells rare disease trial nets early positive results

Purified neural stem cells from StemCells Inc. that were transplanted into four young boys with a rare, fatal central nervous system disorder appear to have built a protective sheath around neurons in the brain.
The results are preliminary but could prove promising for Newark-based StemCells (NASDAQ: STEM) and patients with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, a condition that leads to coordination and motor problems and slower learning.
PMD is caused by a defective gene that leads to insufficient myelin in the brain.

GSK to buy 8.5 percent more of Theravance for $213M

GlaxoSmithKline PLC agreed to buy 10 million shares of Theravance Inc., increasing its stake in the South San Francisco company by 8.5 percent.
Theravance (NASDAQ: THRX) will get $212.9 million gross in this deal, as Glaxo (NYSE: GSK) agreed to pay $21.2887 per share.

Nile Therapeutics to raise $1.4M in stock sale

Heart drug maker Nile Therapeutics Inc. will raise $1.44 million by selling 3.6 million shares of stock.
The San Mateo company (OTCQB: NLTX) will include three-quarters of a warrant for one share at 50 cents with each share sold, so warrants will be issued for 2.7 million shares, too.