all the information, none of the junk | biotech • healthcare • life sciences

San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Regulus, MEI Pharma, Qualcomm & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Against a backdrop of declining VC activity in the life sciences, it’s heartening to see several financing deals come through for companies in the San Diego region. Here’s our rundown.

—The Midwest isn’t the only place experiencing a drought. Venture funding for life sciences startups throughout the U.S. fell 39 percent in the second quarter, compared to the same quarter of 2011, according to a just-released MoneyTree report called “Dollar Drought.” This marks the sector’s fourth straight quarterly decline in dollars and deals. The amount of capital invested in both biotech and devices fell to 20 percent of the overall total of VC dollars. The report, which is available here, is focused more specifically on life sciences than the latest venture capital survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association, and Thomson Reuters.

—San Diego cancer specialist MEI Pharma (NASDAQ: MEIP) said it has reached an agreement to buy exclusive worldwide rights to a potential best-in-class drug that is a selective inhibitor of a group of enzymes called histone deacetylases (HDAC). MEI plans to issue $500,000 of common stock to Singapore’s S*Bio under an agreement that includes potential milestone payments of $75.2 million and other contingent earn-outs. The experimental compound, Pracinostat, has shown potential effect in patients with certain blood cancers and solid tumors.

Elcelyx Therapeutics, founded in San Diego two years to develop new treatments for obesity and diabetes, said it has $4 million of a planned $7-million extension of its Series B round of financing. The additional cash is needed to fund late-stage trials of its nutritional supplement and a delayed release formulation of generic metformin HCL (NewMet) for patients with Type 2 diabetes. Elcelyx has raised a total of $20 million from Morgenthaler Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Technology Partners.

—Carlsbad, CA-based Tragara Pharmaceuticals has raised $4 million of a planned $6 million round of debt and rights, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company’s work is focused on a small-molecule, anti-cancer drug that targets so-called survival proteins that enable cancer cells to defy a natural mechanism for programmed cell death. Tragara’s investors include Domain Associates, Mitsubishi, Morgenthaler Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners, and ProQuest Investments.

—San Diego’s Sonexa Therapeutics raised $2 million in debt, rights, and securities, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company has been developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The company, headed by Domain Associates partner Eckard Weber, raised $30 million in 2008, according to its website. Investors include Domain Associates, AgeChem Venture Fund, Alta Partners, MC Life Science Ventures, and Scale Venture Partners.

—After moving to San Diego last year from Vancouver BC to continue work on a drug treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate, Sophiris Bio told me in an email that veteran biotech executive Randy Woods has joined as CEO. Woods, who is taking over from Sofinnova Ventures’ Lars Ekman, has almost 40 years of experience, including CEO roles at Sequel Pharmaceuticals, NovaCardia, and Corvas.

—San Diego’s Regulus Therapeutics unwrapped a couple of new Big Pharma partnerships to advance work on its innovative approach to commercializing microRNA therapeutics. In a deal with AstraZeneca, Regulus said it has agreed to collaborate to discover, develop, and commercialize microRNA products for three specific targets that are focused on cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic diseases. AstraZeneca agreed to make a combined $28M upfront payment and equity investment in Regulus, along with potential milestone payments.

—In another deal with Weston, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB), Regulus Therapeutics agreed to identify microRNAs biomarkers for multiple sclerosis in the blood of MS patients. Under the transaction, Biogen Idec, the world’s largest maker of drugs for multiple sclerosis, will make an undisclosed investment in Regulus, along with upfront and milestone payments. Regulus said it believes that microRNA biomarkers could be used to select the ideal patients for clinical trials, to develop companion diagnostics, and to monitor disease progression or relapse.

—The West Health Institute named former Johnson & Johnson executive Nicholas J. Valeriani as its new CEO, and said it has established a new incubator for startups that have been funded by the West Health Investment Fund, which is affiliated with the nonprofit institute.  The institute also renamed itself the West Health Institute, dropping “wireless” from its name, “to better reflect the broad work required to lower health care costs.” The changes extend a shift away from an exclusive focus on wireless health to a broader mission that studies ways to lower healthcare costs.

—Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) said its Qualcomm Life division has rolled out a software development kit for 2net, its technology platform for connecting wireless health devices and technologies to cloud-based services and databases. Qualcomm says its approach enables different radio technologies, device types, applications, and services to share health data and related information. Qualcomm Life said it is working with like-minded collaborators, including A&D Medical’s weight scale and blood pressure monitor, Asthmapolis, BodyMedia’s “Fit Link” armband, Entra Health Systems’ glucose meter, Fitbit devices, FitLinxx devices, RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, Nonin, Noom, and Withings devices.