Orexigen Halts U.S. Work on Weight Loss Drug, Illumina Cuts Price for Sequencing Patient Genomes, Ambit Pulls IPO, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

As if to make up for the previous week, there’s been a lot of news from local life sciences companies over the past week. So let’s get started.

—San Diego’s Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX) said it would halt U.S. development of its experimental diet pill, a combination of naltrexone and bupropion (Contrave) after regulators rebuffed the company’s latest proposal. After the Food and Drug Administration rejected Orexigen’s new drug application in February, Orexigen sought approval to sell Contrave in a niche of patients with low cardiovascular risks until a long-term heart study could be completed. The FDA shot that down too, telling the company a large, long-term study of associated heart risks would be required before the drug could be approved.

—At the Third Annual Consumer Genetics Show in Boston yesterday, Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) CEO Jay Flatley chopped the price of the San Diego company’s Individual Genome Sequencing (IGS) service in half, from $19,500 to $9,500. Flatley said the company also would subsidize sequencing for some patients with life-threatening diseases. The CEO said Illumina was taking the measures to increase access to genetic information and to accelerate the adoption of individual genome sequencing.

—A San Diego federal judge yesterday lifted a temporary restraining order issued two weeks ago against Indianapolis, IN-based Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), and denied a request for a preliminary injunction against Lilly that was sought by San Diego’s Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN). Amylin recently sued Lilly after the pharmaceutical company unveiled plans to use the same sales team to market both Amylin’s diabetes drug, exenatide, and Boehringer Ingelheim’s rival diabetes drug, linagliptin. Both Amylin and Lilly issued statements on the ruling.

Ambit Biosciences, a San Diego biotech developing small-molecule, anti-cancer compounds, withdrew its plans for an initial public offering. Ambit said market conditions were not sufficiently attractive to continue with its IPO, which was a discretionary financing. The company has raised more than $105 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2000.

—Solana Beach, CA-based Assay Depot, which provides online e-commerce platforms that make it easier for life sciences researchers to hire clinical research organizations, has raised $1.7 million from private investors. Assay Depot said it plans to use the funding to expand its cloud-based pharmaceutical research services.

—Luke listed some of the key announcements coming out of the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, which ended yesterday in Chicago. He noted that VentiRx Pharmaceuticals, with operations in both San Diego and Seattle, said it plans to move ahead with four clinical trials of an immune-booster for treating solid tumors in combination with chemotherapies, antibodies, and radiation treatments. San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) released some preliminary data from a new chemical formulation of melphalan, a chemotherapy that’s supposed to “enable clinicians to safely achieve a higher dose intensity of pre-transplant chemotherapy.”

—New semiconductor sequencing technology from Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) identified the cause of a deadly foodborne outbreak sweeping Europe as an aggressive hybrid with traits of two pathogenic E. coli strains. Today, Spiegel reports that the death toll stands at 26 in Germany, with 2,600 others sickened across Europe. Life Technologies also developed a custom assay that accurately and rapidly detects the E. coli bacterium in food samples.

—In his BioBeat column this week, Luke listed some of the drug developers today that all have the potential to become big, independent, and profitable biotechs. His list includes Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX). Seattle’s Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN), Cheshire, CT-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN), South San Francisco-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX)), and Rockville, MD-based Human Genome Sciences (NASDAQ: HGSI).

—San Diego-based Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HALO) announced a drug development partnership with Foster City, CA-based Intrexon that could be worth as much as $63 million. The deal was announced just weeks after Halozyme inked a drug development partnership with ViroPharma (NASDAQ: VPHM) of Exton, PA, that could be worth as much as $83 million.

Tioga Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego virtual biotech led by Forward Ventures’ Stuart Collinson, said the FDA granted “fast track” status to asimadoline, the compound Tioga is developing for patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome.