San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Shire, Thesan, ViaCyte, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

What do Thesan Pharmaceuticals, ViaCyte, and Reflexion Health have in common? Each one disclosed that it raised a significant amount of capital. We have that and more.

—San Diego’s Thesan Pharmaceuticals, a newly formed biotech developing innovative drugs for dermatological disorders, said it closed on a $16 million Series A round of financing that was co-led by Novo Ventures and Novartis Venture Funds. Thesan says its lead drug candidate is a topically applied compound expected to enter the clinic in 2013. The company’s first products were licensed from the University of California, Irvine, where they were developed in the laboratory of Daniele Piomelli.

—It’s not exactly teleportation, but famed geneticist J. Craig Venter says it would be possible to transmit an organism from Mars back to earth using a process he calls digital biological conversion. The idea is to put a robotic genetic sequencer aboard a Mars rover, and use it to sequence the genomes of any microbes found in soil samples. The rover could transmit the data to Earth, where the sequenced genome could be used to replicate Martian organisms here on Earth.

—The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has awarded a $10.1 million grant to San Diego-based ViaCyte to move the diabetes company’s stem cell and cell encapsulation technologies into human clinical trials. ViaCyte has developed technology that uses embryonic stem cells to make large quantities of safe and functional islet cells, capable of producing insulin that could be used to treat patients with insulin-dependent Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. ViaCyte would then encapsulate the engineered cells in packets that can be implanted beneath the skin, producing what the company calls an “artificial pancreas.”

—The West Health Investment Fund has provided $4.25 million in funding for Reflexion Health, a San Diego startup developing technology that uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing system to help physical therapy patients with their rehab. The West Health Institute licensed the technology to Reflexion Health, which is moving into the West Health Incubator to commercialize the technology.

—Dean Tozer, a corporate development executive with Shire Regenerative Medicine, joined Life Technologies CEO Greg Lucier and other industry executives during the Seventh Annual Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa to talk about the clinical outlook for regenerative medicine. Tozer said Big Pharma business executives are getting involved in talks with prospective biotech partners much sooner to determine whether prospective business deals are really worth it. Shire is basing most of its new regenerative medicine business in San Diego.

—A study done by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has raised concerns about a class of medications that are prescribed for patients who are losing their eyesight through a disease known as “wet” macular degeneration. Drugs like bevacizumab (Avastin), aflibercept (Eylea), ranibizumab (Lucentis), and pegaptanib (Macugen), are prescribed to inhibit the blood-vessel growth factor vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF has been implicated in stimulating abnormal blood vessel growth in a range of cancers and eye diseases. But Scripps says their scientists found that without VEGF, a large subset of light-sensing cells lost their main blood supply and shut down, causing severe vision loss.

—Targeson CEO Jack DeFranco told me the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases have awarded the company more than $551,000 to continue its Small Business Innovative Research Phase 2 grant. Targeson has proposed using an ultrasound-triggered delivery of siRNA as a treatment for diabetic kidney disease.