John Mendlein Tries His Hand as a ‘Parallel Entrepreneur,’ Santaris Continues RNA Therapeutics Work for Pfizer, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

The holiday left a void of sorts in San Diego’s life sciences news, or maybe everybody is prepping for J.P. Morgan’s big biotech conference in San Francisco next week. Either way, we’ve got the latest update here.

—Luke profiled John Mendlein as a life sciences jack-of-all-trades who made his name as a CEO in 2007, when he sold Waltham, MA-based Adnexus Therapeutics to Bristol-Myers Squibb for more than $500 million. Mendlein, who is a surfer, scientist, lawyer, and biotech executive, is now a “parallel entrepreneur.” He’s a hands-on board member at three San Diego biotech startups pursuing big ideas: Fate Therapeutics, aTyr Pharma, and Alevium Pharmaceuticals.

—Pfizer agreed to pay $14 million to Santaris Pharma, the developer of RNA-based therapies in San Diego and Denmark, to continue development of drugs that target ribonucleic acid, a new avenue of research. Santaris might get as much as $600 million if it is able to meet certain research milestones, as well as royalties on as many as 10 products Pfizer may develop over time using its RNA technology.

—A report by Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association counted 72 venture-backed IPOs during 2010—including initial public offerings for San Diego’s Trius Therapeutics and Zogenix. Healthcare-related IPOs accounted for 11 percent of all 154 IPOs that took place over the past 12 months, according to Renaissance Capital, which tracks all types of IPOs.

—Even though the 17 new biotech issues that debuted on the U.S. market in 2010 were plagued by lackluster receptions (selling fewer shares well below the pricing range), biotech guru Steven Burrill predicts that at least 25 biotech IPOs, possibly more, will be completed in the US in 2011. Burrill, a California biotech specialist, venture capitalist, and keynote speaker, also says he sees no slow down in Big Pharma’s appetite for biotech partnering.

—The final numbers on drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration won’t be available for another month. But it looks like the FDA approved 21 drugs in 2010, according to monthly drug-approval reports on the FDA’s website reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The number is down from 25 drugs the FDA approved in 2009 and 24 in 2008, but higher than the recent low of 18 in 2007. As the Journal noted, however, 2010 may be more memorable for the drugs that weren’t approved—especially in San Diego. The FDA rejected Amylin Pharmaceuticals‘ new drug application for exenatide once-weekly (Bydureon), a long-acting version of the diabetes drug Byetta. The FDA also declined to approve two proposed weight-loss drugs from San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals and Vivus of Mountain View, CA.

—We’ve had a number of guest editorials in the Xconomy Forum from San Diego’s Xconomists and other technology and life sciences leaders, who are weighing in with their perspective on some of the top surprises in 2010, as well as some developments to watch for in 2011. Intellikine CEO Troy Wilson discusses how combinations of experimental-stage drugs could become more commonplace as cancer researchers hunt for better treatments. Tomorrow, Regulus Therapeutics CEO Kleanthis Xanthopoulos (do you think he might be Greek?) will offer some life sciences predictions straight from the Oracle at Delphi.

—We’re still watching for developments at Genoptix (NASDAQ: GXDX), the Carlsbad, CA-based company that provides a centralized testing service for cancers of the blood, which put itself up for sale before the holidays. Bloomberg reported that Genoptix hired Barclays Capital to run an auction.