Friday, September 28, 2012

Heart disease test maker Singulex files for $86M IPO

Alameda diagnostic test developer Singulex Inc. filed for an $86.25 million initial public offering Friday, promising a test to measure signs of heart disease at previously undetectable levels. Using the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act to qualify as an "emerging growth company," 15-year-old Singulex said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that its technology helps to earlier detect and monitor biomarkers of heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and other heart diseases.

Fran Heller to lead Bristol-Myers Squibb business development

Former Exelixis Inc. business development chief Fran Heller will join Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. as senior vice president of business development, the company said Friday.

Elan will shutter South S.F. center as it shifts R&D to new company

Elan Corp. will shutter its South San Francisco drug discovery operations as it shifts the work into a new publicly held company. The Irish biotech company (NASDAQ: ELN), which this summer saw a high-profile experimental Alzheimer's drug crash in late-stage clinical trials, will have no drug discovery or preclinical drug development programs by Dec. 31, it said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week. Closing the South San Francisco facilities, where most of Elan's roughly 400 employees are housed, will translate into $160 million to $180 million in employee severance costs, facilities costs and other restructuring charges, according to the Tuesday filing.

Rheumatoid arthritis drug kick-starts Rigel, AstraZeneca

Rigel's Don Payan (left) and Raul Rodriguez.
Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. is in strange territory. After spending nearly $700 million over 16 years developing drugs, the low-key South San Francisco biotech company has an experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug swiftly heading toward a date with the FDA. The drug, however, may be just as important to Rigel’s Big Pharma partner.

AvidBiotics nails DuPont deal to obliterate E. coli

AvidBiotics Corp.’s got a beef with its freshly minted multimillion-dollar deal with DuPont — and if things go as the small South San Francisco biotech company plans, it will have chicken and vegetables as well. AvidBiotics inked the deal Sept. 17 with DuPont’s health and nutrition business to develop a targeted protein to kill a strain of Escherichia coli, or E. coli, in meat processing plants. DuPont gave AvidBiotics upfront cash, took a minority stake in the eight-employee company and will pay all research and development costs.

Mission Bay roars to life: Biotechs, UCSF, residential developers jostle for space in S.F.'s newest neighborhood

QB3's Reg Kelly.
On a typical lunch hour in Mission Bay, drug researchers rub elbows with venture capitalists and postdoctoral fellows at Peasant Pies’ big communal table. When store co-founder Ali Keshavarzarrived with his French meat pies four years ago, his store was a vacant shell on an empty plaza. Now Peasant Pies serves lunch to some 400 people a day at its Mission Bay space. “We get more people every day, from housing units, pharma companies, students finishing Ph.D.s,” Keshavarz said. “It’s like a phoenix rising.” With more than 50 life sciences companies and venture capital firms, about 1.7 million square feet of commercial office and lab space, and pilings in place for another 423,900 square feet of office space, Mission Bay is emerging from the recession with plans for a new wave of growth that will crest in 2014-15. “All of this is opportunistic. You try to be flexible and nimble,” said Reg Kelly, director of the QB3 institute at theUniversity of California, San Francisco. “I would like Mission Bay to be a magnet for innovators of all kinds.”

Allopartis subsists on seed cash, Mission Bay incubator space

Allopartis CEO Robert Blazej.
Allopartis Biotechnologies is not unlike the other 25 or so companies that have set up shop in the Mission Bay Innovation Center: It is a startup with eager leadership, intriguing science and a penchant for saving a few dollars here, a few dollars there. What it does not have — again like many others in the life sciences incubator space overseen by biotech company FibroGen Inc. — is a solid path carrying its find-a-better-enzyme technology to the market. Not that the five-person team led by Robert Blazej, Allopartis’s co-founder and president, isn’t trying. In fact, on its way toward discovering better enzymes to more efficiently turn cellulose into energy, the four-year-old company decided to focus on higher-margin biochemicals. The company is waiting for partnerships to come through after “several” pilot-type collaborations with large companies, Blazej said.

Executive Profile: Plexxikon's Kathleen Glaub

Kathleen Glaub.
Coming from a family of immigrant entrepreneurs, Kathy Glaub carried on the family tradition by joining drug development company Plexxikon in 2001 as its 10th employee. She has helped guide the company, now with 45 employees, through one of the most celebrated drug approvals of the past 10 years, the metastatic melanoma drug Zelboraf in August 2011. Along with a commercialization deal with Genentech Inc. and a companion diagnostic by Roche Molecular Diagnostics, Zelboraf set up Plexxikon for its April 2011 sale to Daiichi Sankyo for a potential $935 million.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Abaxis to get $17M in settlement with Cepheid

Medical products maker Abaxis Inc. will get $17.25 million in a settlement with Cepheid Inc. Sunnyvale-based Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD) will pay the money to Union City-based Abaxis (NASDAQ: ABAX) without admitting wrongdoing, but to "terminate all pending and future claims connected with the litigation." The dispute, in which both companies made claims and counterclaims, concerned several patents held by Abaxis over reagent and chemical compositions and processes.

A look inside UC Berkeley's new Energy Biosciences Institute building

The University of California, Berkeley, recently completed its $130 million, five-story Energy Biosciences Institute building. The 113,000-square-feet building at at 2151 Berkeley Way will feature modern facilities for scientific research, study and collaboration focusing on turning non-food crops into fuels. The structure, designed by SmithGroupJJRand built by Rudolph and Sletten, also comes with a myriad of green elements such as automated “smart” outside window shades, a lighting control system with building sensors, and an auto-adjusting air exchange system.

Onyx, Bayer win approval of colorectal cancer drug regorafenib

Onyx CEO Tony Coles.
Bayer HealthCare and Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc. won approval Thursday of their colorectal cancer drug regorafenib. The Food and Drug Administration's speedy approval -- regorafenib was submitted for approval in colorectal cancer in April and submitted for approval for gastrointestinal stromal tumors at the end of August -- follows South San Francisco-based Onyx's approval in July of its treatment for multiple myeloma, called Kyprolis. Regorafenib will be marketed as Stivarga.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BioMarin advances drugs for amino acid disease PKU, dwarfism

BioMarin's Jean-Jacques Bienaime.
BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. will take a mid-stage drug for the treatment of a rare phenylketonuria into Phase III testing, the company said Wednesday. Novato-based BioMarin (NASDAQ: BMRN) said preliminary results from its four Phase II trials of pegylated recombinant phenylalanine ammonia lyase, or PEG-PAL, showed it was well tolerated and could prove efficacious. The Phase III program, generally the final stage of clinical trials before seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for a drug, will begin in second-quarter 2013. 

Third Rock biotech startups find work-share partner in Cytokinetics

Cytokinetics' Robert Blum.
There's a line of thought in the cash-sucking biotech world that once a small company gets a drug into the clinic -- especially if investors want to accelerate their return -- that it winds down research operations. Robert Blum doesn't buy it. Instead, the president and CEO ofCytokinetics Inc. (NASDAQ: CYTK) has discovered a way to help pay for his research staff while awaiting the results of a handful of clinical trials: Rent out their expertise.

McKesson names Mark Walchirk president of U.S. pharmaceutical unit

Mark Walchirk.
McKesson Corp. named Mark Walchirk as president of its U.S. pharmaceutical unit, its largest business, effective immediately. He will be the unit's third president in the last 21 months. Walchirk, most recently COO of McKesson Specialty Health, has been with the San Francisco-based pharmaceutical distribution and health care information technology giant (NYSE: MCK) for 11 years. He succeeds Brian Tylerwho was named executive vice president of corporate strategy and business development of McKesson Corp. in late August.

Monday, September 24, 2012

One-on-One with biotech executive Fran Heller

Fran Heller.
Fran Heller is a hawk when it comes to finding a drug deal. Now she's passing on her knowledge of the all-important deal that often determines whether a biotech company lives or dies. On Monday, Heller started her second year of teaching a six-week continuing studies course at Stanford University on the ins-and-outs of the drug development world. Heller has assembled or participated in nearly 100 transactions during her career, including her three years as vice president of business development at South San Francisco's Exelixis Inc.which she left in July 2011. She also was head of strategic alliances at the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, vice president of corporate development and legal affairs at Signature BioScience Inc. and worked at Celera Genomics. I spoke with Heller about her Stanford course, called "New Drug Challenges for Biotech and Pharmaceutical Companies," and the hurdles faced by drug-development companies.

Nodality picks Laura Brege as new president, CEO

New Nodality President and CEO Laura Brege.
Diagnostic test developer Nodality Inc. hired former Onyx Pharmaceuticals COO Laura Brege as its new president and CEO. The South San Francisco company, whose technology helps to show a drug maker why a drug does or does not work, said Brege led commercialization, strategic planning, corporate development and medical, scientific and government affairs at Onyx (NASDAQ: ONXX). She retired from South San Francisco-based Onyx at the end of last year.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Astex dumps experimental lung cancer drug

Astex CEO James Manuso.
Astex Pharmaceuticals Inc. has discontinued its work to bring an experimental cancer drug through clinical trials and onto the market, the company said Friday. The Dublin-based company (NASDAQ: ASTX) said it will try to license the drug -- called amuvatinib, or MP-470 -- which was in the second phase of the three-part clinical trial process. The Phase II trial looked at the drug as a treatment for small cell lung cancer.

European panel recommends Avastin for type of ovarian cancer patients

Avastin, the world's best-selling cancer drug from Swiss drug maker Roche, received a positive opinion Friday from a European Union group to treat a subset of ovarian cancer patients. The Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, or CHMP, essentially recommended that EU authorities approve Avastin in combination with the chemotherapy agents carboplatin and gemcitabine to treat women with recurrent, platinum-sensitive ovarian cancer, the company said Friday.

Software locates kidney donors, but not funds

David Jacobs of Silverstone Solutions.
Silverstone Solutions Inc., which uses software to link kidney transplant donors and recipients who otherwise wouldn’t connect, has a great story, a brilliant founder and lots of good vibes. What it doesn’t have is much in the way of funding.

UCSF eyes bigger Mission Bay play

Mission Bay (foreground).
University of California, San Francisco, could build nearly 850,000 square feet more of labs, housing and offices than originally expected at its Mission Bay research campus, according to plans being weighed by university officials. The institution is considering several options as it looks at how its booming 43-acre research campus will develop over the next 20 years. The most aggressive would raise the existing 2.65 million square foot building cap by nearly a third, but, ultimately, any proposal must jump through a lot of hoops — starting with community meetings in October and November and ending with UC Board of Regents approval in November 2014. The process has implications for other Mission Bay players. It could force the city to undertake a new, lengthy environmental impact report, and it might handcuff further private development in the high-profile medical and life sciences enclave. Unless UCSF can offset increased lab and office space by, for example, building more housing to lower the number of car-driving commuters, the city might seek an EIR that looks more broadly at Mission Bay and surrounding neighborhoods.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

UCSF nets $20M gift for new Mission Bay building

A $20 million gift to UCSF from philanthropist Charles Feeney will help pay for a new building housing the university's global health sciences program while adding to an awesome legacy by the co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers. In all, Feeney's Atlantic Philanthropies has given more than $292 million to theUniversity of California, San Francisco, making him the single-largest contributor to any campus in the UC system, the university said, and arguably the granddaddy of UCSF's Mission Bay campus.

J&J: 'Innovation center' could include life sciences incubator

Diego Miralles.
Johnson & Johnson's new "innovation center" could be a clearinghouse for new drug deals and investments by the drug and device powerhouse or more involved incubator for new companies, a J&J executive said Tuesday. A decision on where to house the Bay Area center -- one of four regional J&J sites globally -- will come soon, said Diego Miralles, the head of J&J's Janssen Healthcare Innovation unit, West Coast Research Center and Janssen Labs.

One-on-One with Medivation CEO David Hung

Medivation's David Hung.
The story of Medivation Inc. could belong in the collection of biotech’s greatest comebacks. The San Francisco company (NASDAQ: MDVN), partner Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and investors pinned many of their hopes on Dimebon, but even before that drug failed, Medivation was working on what now is called Xtandi in prostate cancer. I spoke with Medivation President and CEO David Hung about Xtandi, the competition in the prostate cancer drug arena, Medivation’s pipeline and the likelihood of bringing Dimebon back as an Alzheimer's-fighting drug.

Johnson & Johnson to open 'innovation centers' in Bay Area, globally

Johnson & Johnson will establish an innovation center in the Bay Area as part of a global plan to scout early innovation and boost partnerships with universities and biotech companies. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based drug, medical device and diagnostic powerhouse (NYSE: JNJ) said Tuesday that it will set up "innovation centers" over the next few months in San Francisco -- including a satellite in San Diego -- as well as Boston, London and China.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Threshold stock sinks on pancreatic cancer survival data

Threshold CEO Barry Selick.
The combination of an experimental drug from Threshold Pharmaceuticals Inc. and chemotherapy helped pancreatic cancer patients live 9.2 months in a mid-stage trial, but that wasn't a statistically significant increase from patients in the chemo-only arm of the study. Still, the South San Francisco-based biotech company (NASDAQ: THLD) said the Phase IIb trial of its drug, called TH-302, was not designed to give a definitive answer on "overall survival." What's more, it said some patients receiving gemcitabine alone were allowed to cross over to the combination therapy if their disease progressed, which contributed to an increase in survival in the chemo-only group.

Chinese company to buy Complete Genomics, keep HQ in Mountain View

Complete Genomics' Cliff Reid.
A Chinese company will buy human genome sequencing company Complete Genomics Inc. for $113 million, the companies said Monday, and provide $30 million in bridge financing for operations after signing a merger agreement. A U.S. subsidiary of BGI-Shenzhen, which includes nonprofit genomic research institutes and sequencing application commercial units, will launch a tender offer to buy all the outstanding shares of common stock in Mountain View-based Complete Genomics (NASDAQ: GNOM) for $3.15 per share cash. The price represents an 18 percent premium over Complete Genomics' $2.67 closing price on Friday.

Friday, September 14, 2012

NovaBay lines up investment, Asian distribution deal

NovaBay Pharmaceuticals Inc. could receive investments of up to $5.5 million from a venture related to a Chinese drug company that signed a five-year marketing deal with NovaBay. Naqu Area Pioneer Pharma Co. Ltd. of Shanghai will pay the Emeryville-based company (NYSE MKT: NBY) $500,000 upfront to sell NovaBay's NeutroPhase skin and wound cleaner in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos. The commercial launches in select markets is expected by the end of this year, but others will have the product by 2014, NovaBay said Friday. NovaBay will receive up to $200,000 in milestone payments.

Impax and Teva settle suit with over generic ADHD drug

Impax Pharmaceuticals Inc. and partner Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. settled litigation over a generic ADHD drug copied from one that belongs to Johnson & Johnson Inc. Hayward-based Impax (NASDAQ: IPXL) has a deal with Israel's Teva (NYSE: TEVA) to make a generic copy of Concerta, or methylphenidate hydrochloride extended release tablets. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA is based outside Philadelphia and also makes generic drugs. The two companies did not give details of their settlement with the two Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) units, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Alza Corp.

QB3's 'Startup in a Box' powers new wave of biotech startups

Caribou Biosciences CEO Rachel Haurwitz.
QB3’s boxes are stacking up. Startup in a Box, which initially aimed at helping 15 wannabe life sciences entrepreneurs blow past barriers to launching companies, has aided 76 startups since it began a year ago — and it is pushing deeper into the Bay Area. The 17 companies fully operational with Startup in a Box’s aid have set up shop in San Francisco, Berkeley, Walnut Creek and San Jose. That diaspora is exactly what leaders of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, or QB3, had in mind when they started the program in summer 2011 to help entrepreneurs-in-waiting incorporate a company, get startup government funding, protect their intellectual property or simply set up a no-fee company bank account. What they weren’t counting on, however, was an overflowing box.

Molecular diagnostic test developers, BayBio hunt for lab talent

David Levison of CardioDx.
Even as cash-conscious drug developers carefully hire, there’s an employment bright spot in the larger life sciences industry: diagnostic test developers. Advances in the understanding of how genes interact and show the course of a disease or predict the recurrence of cancer have led to a boom in personalized medicine. Hundreds of jobs have been created in the Bay Area over the past five years. Someone needs to run molecular diagnostic tests through complex equipment and get results back to doctors and patients in days. The readouts help doctors shape treatment plans or make life-saving decisions on invasive surgeries. Molecular diagnostic test developers can’t find the right people to fill the jobs, which pay $60,000 to $75,000 a year. To hire clinical laboratory scientists, they must pit their startup cultures against that of hospitals, which can offer stronger benefits packages and job security.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Napo seeks FDA OK of disputed drug for dog diarrhea

Napo CEO Lisa Conte.
Napo Pharmaceuticals Inc. hopes its experimental diarrhea drug goes to the dogs. The San Francisco company will ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve the drug, called crofelemer, for use in chemotherapy-induced diarrhea in dogs. Salix Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: SLXP), Napo's former partner, is seeking approval for crofelemer for HIV/AIDS patients with chronic diarrhea, but the FDA last week delayed action on Salix's application until the first quarter of 2013.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Slideshow: Bayer opens its CoLaborator

Bayer HealthCare showcased its new CoLaborator incubator Monday under sunny skies, literally and figuratively. Leaders of young biotech companies Aronora Inc. and ProLynx LLC, and roughly 100 other guests, officially opened the 6,000-square-foot facility Monday on the ground floor of Bayer's Mission Bay research center. It was, Mayor Ed Lee said, proof that San Francisco is "the innovation capital of the world," linking small and large companies.

Kickstarter film project, ALS patients face life-and-death deadlines

Ben Harris, with son Rawdan and wife Rebecca.
Time is running out for Jason Harris and his brother, Ben. Only 14 days remain in Jason Harris' Kickstarter effort to fund a documentary film around Lou Gehrig's disease patients taking science and the search for potential treatments into their own hands. The story centers on Ben Harris, who wasinstrumental in efforts to fill a mid-stage trial of an experimental treatment from Palo Alto's Neuraltus Pharmaceuticals Inc. Ben also was involved in a patient-led "biohacking" movement to find the active ingredient of Neuraltus' drug, called NP-001, and to treat themselves. It is more than a story about Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. It is a story about the growing movement by patients to take matters into their own hands as they and their caregivers, doctors and drug companies become increasingly frustrated with what they see as the sloth-like process of getting life-saving or disease-altering drugs approved. It also is a story that gets to the heart of a major drug-development question: When is a small extension of a patient's life -- even just a few months -- not a regulatory or business model issue but a personal or ethical issue?

Bayer opens Mission Bay 'CoLaborator' with 2 tenants

Bayer's Chris Haskell.
Bayer HealthCare's answer to the incubator boom -- and the company's push to tap outside innovation -- officially kicks off Monday with the opening of its Mission Bay CoLaborator. Two companies -- Aronora Inc. and ProLynx LLC -- are the first tenants of the 6,000-square-foot ground-floor incubator in Bayer's nearly 2-year-old research center. Aronora, led by CEO Andras Gruber, is working on drugs that prevent or interfere with blood clotting. ProLynx is developing "linker systems" that help predict and control the extension of drug half-life, or the amount of time it takes for a body to lose half of the amount of a drug.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pfizer taps Pleasanton's SFJ Pharma to run late-stage lung cancer trial

SFJ Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Pleasanton-based company formed to run clinical trials for large drug companies, will conduct a Phase III trial of Pfizer Inc.'s experimental lung cancer drug dacomitinib. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but SFJ said it will fund and supervise the trial across sites in Asia and Europe that will help the world's largest drug maker (NYSE: PFE) submit dacomitinib for regulatory approval.

Genentech, 23andMe team up to discover if social media can point breast cancer researchers toward answers on Avastin

Genentech's Philippe Bishop.
Breast cancer survivor Christi Turnage had a “what-if” moment as Genentech Inc. and federal regulators debated the fate of Avastin as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer. What if Avastin worked even better than the South San Francisco-based biotech giant intended — like it had with Turnage? What if she belonged to a subset of metastatic breast cancer patients who are “super-responders” to Avastin? And what if a study could find biomarkers, or signals, woven into those women’s cells that could easily identify super-responders and get them on Avastin faster? Genentech listened, especially after the FDA in November revoked approval for metastatic breast cancer of the world’s best-selling cancer drug. The result is a study with a social media twist, thanks to DNA analysis company 23andMe Inc. But what makes the study unique is that patients aren’t receiving any drugs. They aren’t referred by a doctor, and they aren’t even required to go to a predetermined clinical trial site. The only requirements are Internet access, a wad of spit into a cup and, if participants choose, a blood sample.

Proteus' body-monitoring chips look to reshape drug compliance

Proteus co-founder Dr. George Savage.
Health care is moving beyond science fiction, and Proteus Digital Health Inc. is leading the fantastic voyage. The Redwood City company won Food and Drug Administration approval in July for an itsy-bitsy stomach-fluid-activated device — the size of a grain of sand — that is embedded in medicine and gives real-time information on how the drug is taken up in the body. The device also records heart rate and other essential data that can help ensure that medicine is working as it should.

Startup Bell Biosystems gives researchers a way to track, kill injected cells

CytomX's Dan Bell (far right) and team.
While researchers believe stem cell therapies can overcome diabetes, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries and a host of other conditions, they’ve faced one big-time head scratcher: showing what those millions of cells actually do once they are in the body. Caleb Bell thinks his young company, Bell Biosystems, has a solution. The company, which recently moved from the Stanford University student-run incubator StartX to the Molecular Medicine Research Institute in Sunnyvale, is working on a way to magnetize cells so that they can be localized, tracked and, if necessary, killed when they go astray.

CytomX preps 'probodies' for an invasion, partnerships

CytomX CEO Sean McCarthy.
If antibody-drug conjugates lead the next war against disease-fighting therapies, CytomX Therapeutics Inc. is readying fresh recruits. Antibody-drug conjugates use antibodies, the Y-shaped proteins that direct the immune system toward a foreign invader, to carry a payload of toxic drugs. But CytomX is developing what it calls “probodies,” which it says are that much more highly targeted in delivering their tumor cell-killing packages.

Stealthy Didimi pushes cells back to the starting line

If twins know each other better than anyone else, leaders of Didimi Inc. are counting on the same holding true for our cells. One of the companies on the growing roster of the QB3 East Bay Innovation Center, Didimi is focusing on a way to regenerate insulin-producing islet cells — from a patient’s own or someone else’s cells — as a treatment for Type 1 diabetes. Call it a cellular do-over or a scientific version of “Groundhog Day” with some potentially stunning implications.

Healthiest Employers: Bayer fosters culture of fitness with fun events

When Angela Elliot isn’t teaching aerobics to her colleagues, she’s out jogging with them on her lunch break. If she doesn’t show up, she feels guilty about it later. Elliott, a senior manager for Bayer Healthcare’s process validation group, is just one of many employees who lives up to the company’s motto of using science for a better life. The company’s focus on well-being has created a culture of health and fitness that encourages employees to encourage each other.

Jazz Pharma to sell women's health business for $95M

Jazz Pharmaceuticals will sell its women's heath business to specialty pharmaceutical company Meda for $95 million in cash. Jazz, which has an office in Palo Alto (NASDAQ:JAZZ) said in the release that the sale involves six products: Elestrin, Gastrocrom, Natelle One, AVC, Gesticare DHA and Urelle.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Plant scientists keep switchgrass forever young to make fuel

They can't do it in people, but scientists think they can keep switchgrass "forever young" by inserting a new gene, thus making it more useful in creating biofuel. Geneticists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture did the work at the USDA's Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany. Sarah Hake, who runs the lab, and UC Berkeley's George Chuck inserted a new maize gene, called "Corngrass1" or Cg1, into Panicum virgatum, or switchgrass, thus keeping it in a "juvenile" state without flowers or seeds.

Thermo Fisher Scientific buys 22 acres, plans to build home for 400 employees

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., the Waltham, Mass.-based scientific instrument maker, plans to build out a new home in Fremont for its roughly 400 employees. Thermo Fisher confirmed that it bought 22 of 147 acres from Union Pacific that surround the Tesla Motors Inc. manufacturing plant. The company currently leases three facilities in Fremont that are within two miles of the parcel.

KaloBios pulls in $10M debt financing with option to borrow $5M more

KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $10 million, with an option to borrow an additional $5 million, in a debt financing with MidCap Financial SBIC LP. South San Francisco-based KaloBios will use the money to advance clinical development of its monoclonal antibody drugs, including Phase II trials of its severe asthma drug and a treatment for cystic fibrosis patients, and for general corporate purposes.

Astex, U.K. groups form blood cancer research pact

Astex Pharmaceuticals Inc. inked a research collaboration with Cancer Research Technology Ltd. and the Institute of Cancer Research in London to discover and develop drug candidates for blood cancer caused by epigenetics. Dublin-based Astex (NASDAQ: ASTX) did not disclose the value of the deal or say how long the collaboration would last.

VistaGen restructures MoFo debt, investor buys notes

VistaGen Therapeutics Inc. restructured nearly $2.4 million of long-term debt with law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP as an investor bought a $750,000 note from the South San Francisco biotech company. VistaGen (OTCBB: VSTA), which is developing ways to incorporate human stem cells into research lab tests that can predict a drug's toxicity or help with drug discovery, said about $1.38 million of the debt to Morrison & Foerster is expected to be converted into restricted common stock at a price of $1 per share. It did not say how the remaining $1 million in debt would be restructured.

CIRM approves $20M award - with a catch - for StemCells Alzheimer's research

StemCells Inc. and three other research projects won a total of $63 million in funding Wednesday night from California's stem cell research funding agency. But the $20 million earmarked by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for StemCells (NASDAQ: STEM) -- the Newark company's second award in two months -- comes with a catch. StemCells must satisfy CIRM staff of "the company's ability to access the capital needed to fund the project."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

OptiMedica gets FDA market clearance for laser cataract system

OptiMedica Corp. has been granted U.S. Food and Drug Administration 510(k) market clearance for its "Catalys Precision Laser System" for single-plane and multi-plane cuts in the cornea during cataract surgery, according to a release.

Codexis lays off 133, hires new CFO

Codexis Inc., a company that makes environmentally friendly chemicals, fuels and pharmaceutical processes, said Tuesday it will lay off 133 people. The layoffs are necessary because the Redwood City-based company is ending an agreement it had with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and will lose ongoing funding, a statement from the company said.

One-on-One with Natera founder Jonathan Sheena

Jonathan Sheena of Natera.
The prenatal testing industry is shaping up as one of the most competitive in the medical diagnostics arena, and the Bay Area has become a center of innovation and new-company formation with the likes of Aria Diagnostics in San Jose, Verinata Health in Redwood City and Natera Inc. in San Carlos. What's more, as my colleague Diana Samuels wrote earlier this year, the fight has turned to the courtroom as Bay Area test makers challenge each other and Sequenom Inc. (NASDAQ: SQNM), the San Diego-based company that was first to the market with a non-invasive test. The competition makes it all the more important for these companies to prove that their technology is best, and one of the more aggressive companies in that regard has been Natera. I spoke recently with Jonathan Sheena, Natera's founder and chief technology officer, about the company's non-invasive prenatal tests, its ongoing clinical trials, its hiring and its attempts to win insurance coverage for its tests.

StemCells finds early data from spinal cord injury trial promising

StemCells CEO Martin McGlynn.
Early data from an early-stage trial in spinal cord patients by StemCells Inc. indicated that two of three patients with the worst kind of spinal cord injuries started recovering feeling. The Newark company (NASDAQ: STEM), which is developing human neural stem cells, is the first to report data from a stem cells trial in spinal cord injuries, a spokeswoman said.