Early Histogen Study Offers Hope for Retreating Hairlines, Cadence Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Raise Lots of Cash, Unmanned Predator Begins New Air Patrol, & More San Diego BizTech News

It was the best of times and worst of times for the life sciences in San Diego last week. Stalwarts Cadence Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Pharmaceuticals raised cash to expand their businesses, while La Jolla Pharmaceutical and 4-D Neuroimaging basically went in the opposite direction. Biofuels also were back in the news, along with the unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft, so read on!

—San Diego-based Histogen CEO Gail Naughton was the “mane” attraction when she presented preliminary results of a hair re-growth study last week at the 4th Annual Stem Cell Summit in New York. In early results from a five-month trial, Naughton says the biotech’s injectable ReGenica compound stimulated new hair growth in men after 12 weeks.

—Cadence Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CADX) said last week it’s raising $86.6 million in a private sale of 12 million shares, which will be used to build its sales force and to market its new drug candidate, Acetavance. The San Diego biotech is working on an application for FDA approval of the drug, which is a form of the painkiller acetaminophen (the main ingredient in Tylenol) developed for intravenous use in hospitals.

—Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), which has 200 employees in San Diego and 1,300 at its headquarters in Cambridge, MA, is raising $320 million in a secondary offering of stock. The biotech is in the final, extremely expensive phase of developing new drug candidates for treating hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.

—In a subsequent interview, Vertex chief financial officer Ian Smith told Luke the offering also marks a shift to “blue-blood” investment firms that prefer to invest in late-stage biotech companies that have cleared their riskiest stage of development.

—After reporting the failure of its Riquent drug candidate for lupus, La Jolla Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: LJPC) says it is evaluating its strategic options for selling or unwinding the business. The biotech says it’s laying off an undisclosed number of employees to reduce costs.

—The unmanned Predator aircraft that General Atomics Aeronautical Systems developed for the CIA and military surveillance was put on a new course in 2005, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security selected it to patrol U.S. borders. Predators have been flying the boundary with Mexico for years, and now the mission has entered a new phase, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection said last week said it has begun Predator air patrols along the North Dakota border with Canada.

—After gaining decades of experience in aquaculture, Kent BioEnergy is shifting its focus on developing algae for renewable energy, water remediation and other uses. President Jack Van Olst told me the company is pursuing a multipurpose strategy that emphasizes a systems approach and seeks to maximize efficiencies by using algae in many different ways.

—Verenium (NASDAQ: VRNM), a Cambridge, MA, startup that has about 180 employees in San Diego has established a joint venture with BP to build commercial-scale biofuel plants in the United States. Verenium, which was formed in the 2006 merger of Boston’s Celunol and San Diego’s Diversa, uses proprietary microbes to break down sugar cane and other high-cellulose material into ethanol.

—San Diego’s 4-D Neuroimaging, which specializes in magnetoencephelography, or MEG, to detect bio-electric fields in the brain, ceased operations last week—putting an estimated 38 employees out of work. The company’s machines, used mostly in diagnostic imaging of patients with epilepsy, are in hospitals around the world.

—Hercules Technology Growth Capital (NASDAQ: HTGC), a specialty finance company based in Palo Alto, CA, has closed its San Diego office and laid off three employees who were employed here.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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