Ambit Signs Big Deal With Astellas, Xenomics Alleges Fraud at Sequenom, Arena Seeks FDA Approval for Weight-Loss Drug & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

Despite the fact that there are no snow days in San Diego, we still saw occasional flurries—of life sciences news—in the days before Christmas. Here at Xconomy, we’re wishing everyone happy holidays and an exponential New Year.

Scott Salka, the CEO of Ambit Biosciences told Luke the San Diego life sciences company pushed hard to land a partnership with Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma to develop and commercialize a class of potential drugs for treating acute myeloid leukemia and related diseases. Ambit will get $40 million in upfront cash and as much as $350 million in milestone payments. By securing the deal, Salka said Ambit will get to hire another half-dozen people for its clinical development team and can expand Ambit’s product pipeline.

Xenomics, a molecular diagnostics company based in New York City, alleges it was defrauded by Sequenom when the San Diego company licensed Xenomics’ technology in 2008. In a civil lawsuit against Seqenom, Xenomics says it now believes that Sequenom deliberately doctored data for a non-invasive blood test to determine if a fetus has Down syndrome. Amid continuing inquiries by the FBI ad SEC into what happened at Sequenom, the company continues to maintain that its clinical trial data was only “mishandled.”

—True to its word, San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of lorcaserin, its weight-loss drug. Arena said in September it had enough data from 8,600 patients enrolled in 18 clinical trials to get its application in before the end of the year. The new drug application to the FDA puts Arena ahead of two potential competitors, San Diego-based Orexigen Therapeutics and Mountain View-based Vivus, which also have weight-loss drugs in the works.

—Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS), will get a $10 million payment from Bothell, WA-based OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals as part of OncoGenex’s new partnership with Teva Pharmaceutical. When OncoGenex (NASDAQ: OGXI) landed a worldwide partnership with Teva to develop an antisense drug therapy for prostate cancer, the deal provided that upfront payment to Isis, plus 30 percent of the $370 million in development milestone payments.

Facet Biotech of Redwood City, CA, said its shareholders rejected a $450 million takeover bid from Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Biogen, which has a substantial presence in San Diego, later withdrew its offer and Facet (NASDAQ: FACT) hired a financial advisor to solicit additional offers from other potential suitors.

MediciNova (NASDAQ: MNOV) the San Diego-based developer of small-molecule therapeutics, has merged with Avigen (NASDAQ: ticker: AVGN]]), a biotech based in Alameda, CA. Avigen shareholders are getting a mixture of cash, convertible notes or a combination of both in the recently approved deal.

Caltech has granted an exclusive license to Regulus Therapeutics, the Carlsbad, CA-based developer of microRNA therapies. Regulus said it is getting worldwide rights to a couple of compounds known as mIR-146 and mIR-155 from the lab of Nobel laureate David Baltimore. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.