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San Diego Biotechs With Good News Step Forward at Roth Conference

Xconomy San Diego — 

Many investors are nursing their wounds in the recession, so some of the big technology investment conferences have been canceled—or the investment banks that sponsored them no longer exist.

That’s why the turnout at Roth Capital Partners’ 21st annual growth stock conference has been a pleasant surprise for Aaron Gurewitz, a managing director at Roth’s headquarters in Newport Beach, CA. The conference started yesterday, and continues today at the Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, CA.

“We set our expectations really low for this year,” Gurewitz says, and it’s definitely exceeded expectations.” Almost 1,800 investors and analysts registered for the financial conference, which is down about 15 percent from last year’s attendance. One explanation could be that more private equity firms signed up, Gurewitz says. Another factor may be that the Roth conference is focused on the smallest public companies—which traditionally have the highest potential for exponential growth.

Fewer companies are presenting, though. Organizers say executives from 212 companies are making presentations to investors this year—compared with 320 companies last year. There are many more companies focused on energy and media this year, and Gurewitz says investor interest is especially high in companies that are already doing business in China.

Several San Diego biotechs made presentations yesterday, and they had mostly good things to say. (Why attend otherwise, right?) Here is a sampling:

—Cadence Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CADX), which also reported a private stock placement yesterday, is getting ready to apply for FDA approval of its germ-killing Omnigard gel. CEO Ted Schroeder says the company is expecting results of a Phase 3 clinical trial of its gel by the end of March. If the results are positive, Schroeder says Cadence anticipates filing its new drug application by June. The gel was developed to prevent infections in hospitalized patients who get catheters inserted into veins. About 325,000 catheter-related infections are reported worldwide each year—and some 40,000 to 80,000 people die from them annually, Cadence says.

—Cypress Bioscience (NASDAQ: CYPB) which got FDA approval in January for use of its drug milnacipran (brand name Savella) for patients with fibromyalgia, plans to begin marketing the drug in coming weeks. Sabrina Johnson, the biotech’s chief operating officer, says the company had about $150 million in available cash at the end of 2008, and corporate partner Forest Laboratories made a $25 million milestone payment to Cypress after the drug won FDA approval. That’s a nice war chest for Cypress as it sets out to jointly market the new drug with Forest. Johnson says Cypress already has hired 100 sales representatives who will focus their efforts on rheumatologists and pain specialists.

—NuVasive (NASDAQ: NUVA), CFO Kevin O’Boyle says the medical device company still expects sales growth of 40 percent in 2009, despite economic conditions. The company specializes in equipment and related products used in a pioneering surgical technique used to repair degenerated discs and other disorders of the spine. O’Boyle says the company provides training in its “lateral access technology” at its San Diego headquarters for between 400 and 500 orthopedic surgeons a year.

—Senomyx (NASDAQ: [[ticker: SNMX]]) CEO Kent Snyder says Swiss food giant Nestle is expected to launch new products in the United States this year that feature “savory” food enhancers the San Diego biotech has developed. The company screens hundreds of thousands of synthetic and natural molecules to identify compounds that interact with the four taste receptors on the tongue, savory, sweet, salty, and bitter. Four compounds that Senomyx has developed to enhance the savory taste, and as a replacement for MSG, have been approved for use in the United States. Snyder said another compound developed to enhance sucralose (better known as the artificial sweetener Splenda) also has been approved and is on the “cusp” of commercialization. Senomyx also has identified a molecule that enhances sugars sucrose and fructose, and has been screening molecules that reduce or block bitter tastes.

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