West Wireless Repositions Itself as an Impartial Arbiter, Amylin Makes Headway in Europe, VCs Debate Viability of Venture-Backed Biotech, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

While overall venture funding in San Diego was off dramatically during the first quarter, three life sciences deals disclosed last week suggest that a turnaround is underway. We’ve got those details and more.

—By making a few management changes, shedding some commercial initiatives, and distancing itself from Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), San Diego’s West Wireless Health Institute is recasting itself as a more independent and impartial nonprofit research organization. The two-year-old institute also is now emphasizes its philanthropic funding and commitment to cutting the costs of healthcare.

The MoneyTree venture capital survey found that VCs invested just over $100 million in 22 San Diego startups during the first quarter of 2011. That’s a 55 percent drop in capital and a 29 percent decline in deals from the same quarter a year ago. The top five life sciences deals were Conatus Pharmaceuticals ($25.3 million); Elcelyx Therapeutics ($6.1 million); Mpex Pharmaceuticals ($5.1 million); Opthonix ($4.1 million); and Next Therapeutics ($3 million).

—The San Diego Venture Group hosted a spirited debate that had Avalon Ventures’ Kevin Kinsella and Bob More of Frazier Healthcare arguing against the long-term viability of biotech with Camille Samuels of Versant Ventures and Wende Hutton of Canaan Partners. More won my imaginary door prize for funniest jibes (e.g.”venture capital is a math exercise for people who never took math.”). But the audience grew somber when all four VCs agreed that venture-backed venture biotech is going to shrink substantially.

—The European Commission is expected to act in the next two to three months on an application from San Diego-based Amylin, along with Eli Lilly and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes, to market their once-weekly version of exenatide (Bydureon). Last week a European advisory committee recommended approving the drug for human use in the European Union. The U.S. application for once-weekly exenatide was sent back in October by the FDA, which wants to see more data on the drug’s effect on the heart.

—San Diego-based Sangart raised $50 million in venture capital to continue its work on an oxygen-carrying compound to counter blood loss in traumatic injuries. The Series G round of funding is one of the bigger deals we’ve seen in San Diego in recent years, and brings Sangart’s total funding to more than $230 million.

—San Diego’s Tracon Pharmaceuticals raised $14 million of a planned $22 million round of venture capital to fund its development of a promising therapeutic that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels that supply tumors in prostate, bladder, and liver cancers.

CoDa Therapeutics, which has operations in San Diego and Auckland, New Zealand, raised $19 million in a Series B round of venture to fund its technology for healing wounds, specifically for venous leg wounds and for diabetic patients with foot ulcers.

—San Diego-based Awarepoint, which uses RFID technology to help hospitals keep track of ventilators, surgical tools, and other valuable assets, acquired Charlotte, N.C.-based Patient Care Technology Systems, a workflow software developer. No financial terms were disclosed.