San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Deals at MEI Pharma, Auspex, Ambit

Xconomy San Diego — 

It was a good week for raising capital in San Diego’s life sciences community. We have a rundown of the big deals and other news, too.

—San Diego’s MEI Pharma (Nasdaq: MEIP), a cancer drug developer headed by former Favrille founder Dan Gold, arranged a private financing with Vivo Ventures and New Leaf Venture Partners, which purchased $27.5 million of common stock and warrants. The company said the proceeds would be used mostly to begin work on an epigenetic regulator drug, Pracinostat, that MEI acquired in August. The drug has shown promise in treating blood cancers such as myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia.

—San Diego’s Ambit Biosciences closed the first $25 million tranche of a $50 million round of financing, which will be used to move its lead drug candidate, quizartinib, to late stage trials. Existing investor OrbiMed Advisors led the financing with participation from other existing Ambit investors including Aisling Capital, Apposite Healthcare, Roche Ventures, GrowthWorks, MedImmune Ventures, Forward Ventures, GIMV, and Radius Ventures. Ambit Biosciences has been developing quizartinib for the treatment of relapsed or “refractory” acute myeloid leukemia.

Panorama Capital led a $25 million round of funding for San Diego’s Auspex Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a portfolio of deuterium-based drugs. Existing investors Thomas, McNerney & Partners, CMEA Capital, and Sloan Biotech Fund joined in the round. Auspex Pharma plans to use the proceeds to advance its lead drug candidate, SD-809, an improved formulation of tetrabenazine that substitutes deuterium for hydrogen atoms. The FDA has approved tetrabenazine for treating involuntary movement in Huntington’s disease and other disorders.

—San Diego’s Genoa Pharmaceuticals, a biotech startup developing an inhalable formulation of pirfenidone for treating idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), said it has raised $1.2 million in seed funding. Investors were not disclosed. As Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman reported earlier this year, IPF is a fatal lung disease that affects approximately 200,000 Americans and 135,000 Europeans.

—San Diego-based CalciMedica, which has been developing a once-daily oral pill for patients with moderate to severe psoriasis, has raised $4.6 million in debt and rights to securities, according to regulatory filing. CalciMedica was founded in 2006 and has previously raised funding from GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One investment arm, Sanderling Ventures, and Biogen Idec New Ventures.

—San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ARNA), said its European subsidiary has entered into an agreement with South Korea’s Ildong Pharmarceuticals for exclusive rights to market and distribute its weight loss drug lorcaserin (Belviq) in south Korea. The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval in South Korea, includes an upfront payment of $5 million.