FDA Rejects Orexigen’s Weight-Loss Drug, Arena Lays Off 66, ResMed CEO Jumps to CareFusion, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

A series of private announcements and public policy changes in recent days put a spotlight on entrepreneurs nationwide. As Wade wrote in a thoughtful analysis, we seem to have placed a much bigger bet as a nation on early stage startups—and the life sciences news out of San Diego this past week seemed to reflect all the opportunities, risks, and expectations that encompass such bets.

—In an unexpected blow, FDA regulators rejected the new drug application for Contrave, the weight-loss drug developed by San Diego-based Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX). The FDA said the drugmaker must conduct an extensive new clinical trial of the drug, which is a combination of bupropion and naltrexone, that evaluates the risk of “major cardiovascular events.”

—Across town, San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) eliminated 66 jobs, or about 25 percent of its workforce. That’s estimated to save the company about $13.5 million a year as Arena works to resurrect the prospects for lorcaserin, another weight-loss drug that was rejected by the FDA last year.

The Scripps Research Institute’s longtime president, Richard Lerner, is expected to step down soon. No formal announcement has been made, but Luke reported that Berkeley chemist and molecular biologist Michael Marletta may be the leading candidate as Lerner’s successor.

—At a time when California’s biomedical sector lost about 6,000 jobs, a report from the California Healthcare Institute found that San Diego added 678 jobs in 2009, as total employment in San Diego’s biomedical sector hit 24,157. Job gains in San Diego was a surprising theme that emerged in this year’s 2011 California Biomedical Industry Report.

—Kieran Gallahue resigned as the CEO of San Diego-based ResMed (NYSE: RMD) to take a job across town as the chairman and CEO of San Diego’s CareFusion (NYSE: CFN). Gallahue, 47, replaced former CareFusion chairman and CEO David Schlotterbeck, who is retiring. Meanwhile ResMed founder and executive chairman Peter Farrell is resuming his CEO duties there.

—I profiled Vista, CA-based Fluorotronics, which has developed pulsed-laser technology that it says identifies the unique spectral signature of carbon-fluorine bonds rapidly, accurately, and at low cost. Founding CEO Olga Sharts said the company is initially targeting the pharmaceuticals industry, where fluorine-labeled molecules make the technology ideally suited for both drug discovery and quality assurance.

—San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) acquired CyDex Pharmaceuticals for more than $36 million in mostly borrowed cash.

—San Diego-based drug developer Meritage Pharma raised $2 million from investors in a financing round that is expected to total $5.5 million. The company is focused on developing a treatment for eosinophlic esophagitis, in which an allergic reaction causes a person’s esophagus to swell.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX), which has operations in San Diego, joined with other drug makers to support studies that are intended to encourage the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to routinely screen for hepatitis C. If that happens, an additional 1 million people who don’t realize they have hepatitis C could turn to Vertex’s new hepatitis C drug.