San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Isis, Afraxis, Organovo, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Developments at Isis and Afraxis were the main events for the local biotech crowd this week, with Isis winning FDA approval for its first-in-class antisense drug and Afraxis licensing all of its drug compounds to Genentech. Here’s my roundup.

—The price of shares in Isis Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ISIS) gained 9.8 percent yesterday, closing at $14.69 a share in heavy trading after the FDA approved its cholesterol-lowering drug mipomersen (Kynamro). The Carlsbad, CA, biopharmaceutical and partner Genzyme developed mipomersen to treat patients who are genetically predisposed to have high levels of LDL cholesterol, known as the “bad” cholesterol. Jeffries analyst Eun K. Yang told clients in a note that the FDA approval validates Isis’ antisense technology platform. But he adds, “We continue to view Kynamro’s commercial potential as low,” and he estimates peak U.S. sales of mipomersen would be less than $100 million.

—San Diego-based Afraxis, founded in 2007 and funded only by Avalon Ventures, sold exclusive, worldwide rights to develop and commercialize all of its drug compounds to Roche’s Genentech subsidiary in a deal that could eventually total $187.5 million. The licensing deal, which counts as an exit, follows BioMarin Pharmaceutical’s $10-million acquisition of another Avalon portfolio company, San Diego’s Zacharon Pharmaceuticals, earlier this month.

—San Diego’s Organovo has formed a partnership with the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to make 3-D human tissue samples that more accurately mimic the behavior of cancerous tissue. Using Organovo’s bio-printing technologies, the partners want to create 3-D tissue samples that closely model cancer disease mechanisms. These tissue samples could then be used for testing new drug compounds in pre-clinical trials.

—Former ID Analytics CEO Bruce Hansen has joined startup CEOs throughout California to oppose a retroactive tax on small business investors that was imposed recently by the California Franchise Tax Board. Brian Overstreet, CEO of the Healdsburg, CA-based drug safety startup, called attention to the tax board’s new policy when he learned he would be subject to back taxes in the 2012 sale of Sagient Research Systems, a San Diego data company he co-founded in 1999. Hansen and Overstreet helped form California Business Defense, which has hired the Washington, D.C. lobbying form of Petrizzo Bond to orchestrate opposition to the FTB decision in Sacramento.

—In his BioBeat column this week, Luke talked with Greg Simon, CEO of New York-based Poliwogg, about the emerging possibilities for crowdfunding biotech startups. The JOBS Act, which was enacted last year, could make crowdfunding a reality for biomedical R&D, and Poliwogg has spent the last year building a social platform for such transactions. Simon told Luke, “The potential global size off this kind of funding of equity—and I’m not talking about Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or the nonprofit stuff—is $1 trillion or more.” As Luke put it, biotech should get ready for a wild ride.