Biogen Idec CEO Stepping Down, Ambrx Focuses on Empowered Antibodies, Intellikine Testing First Drug Candidate, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s biotech community got busy in the first week of 2010, with a flurry of news falling as heavily as a New England snowstorm. Better get your snow shovel.

James Mullen announced his plans to retire June 8 (at the tender age of 51) as CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Mullen was promoted to head Biogen in 2000 and assumed command of the combined companies following the 2003 merger of Biogen with San Diego-based Idec Pharmaceuticals. In recent years, however, Mullen became a lightning rod for criticism among activist shareholders (including billionaire Carl Icahn), who complained that Biogen Idec shares were underperforming in comparison with biotech peers.

—San Diego-based Ambrx CEO Steve Kaldor told Luke that about one-third of the biotech firm’s staff—and half of its resources—are now focused on building on recent breakthroughs in the development of antibody drug conjugates, a class of protein drugs also known as “empowered antibodies.” For example, Ambrx is developing a new anti-cancer drug, called T-DM1, that combines the ability of an antibody to seek out cancerous cells with a potent toxin that gives the treatment extra tumor-killing kick.

—San Diego’s Intellikine is still on a fast track to develop drug candidates that block a hot cancer target known as the PI3 kinase. Kinases are a type of enzyme that control complex cellular processes, usually by transferring phosphate molecules to specific places in the cells. Intellikine is developing a portfolio of drug candidates designed to disrupt the processes controlled by the PI3 kinase. Intellikine, which was founded a little more than two years ago, is now testing its first drug candidate in humans.

—San Diego-based Sequenom (NASDAQ: SQNM) settled a dispute with Michigan-based SensiGen by issuing about $1.5 million worth of Sequenom shares. After the value of Sequenom shares plunged last year, a lawyer for SensiGen asserted claims that Sequenom had breached representations made when Sequenom acquired SensiGen’s molecular diagnostic tests.

—San Diego’s Adventrx Pharmaceuticals (AMEX: ANX) said it has submitted a new drug application for a new formulation of the anti-cancer drug vinorelbine that Adventrx says has fewer side effects. The application represents an extraordinary comeback for the biotech, which announced plans last March to substantially end its operations. Adventrx also said it was raising $19 million through a private placement of its convertible preferred shares.

—With technology developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) has developed a new type of flow cytometer, used to count and catalog large numbers of cells in a biological sample. The new design uses sound waves to measure the size and type of certain cells flowing through a tube.