San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Avalon’s GSK Deal, Illumina, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Even with the big BIO International Convention in Chicago this week, San Diego still managed to make life science headlines, as Avalon Ventures unveiled a pharma partnership that could bring nearly a half-billion dollars in startup capital to San Diego. We have that and the rest of the local life sciences news over the past week.

—San Diego’s Avalon Ventures and the London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) said they signed a strategic partnership to start as many as 10 new biotech companies in San Diego. Avalon Ventures and GSK also committed to invest as much as $495 million in seed funding, R&D support, and milestone payments for the startups.

—Tranzyme Pharma (NASDAQ: TZYM), said it is merging its struggling business into San Diego-based Ocera Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical startup developing new treatments for liver disease. The combined public company will be based in San Diego and operate as Ocera. Tranzyme CEO Vipin Garg is leaving the company, which will be headed by Ocera CEO Linda Grais. The merged company also plans to raise $20 million through a private investment in a public company.

—San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) said it has entered into a strategic collaboration with China’s Kindstar Global, enabling Kindstar to use Illumina gene sequencing equipment and supplies to expand its specialty testing services in more than 3,300 hospitals throughout China. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Sense4Baby, a startup developing wireless fetal monitor technology licensed from San Diego’s West Health Institute, said it has received $4 million in funding from the West Health Investment Fund. San Diego-based Sense4Baby also named Jessica Grossman as CEO. Grossman was previously the medical director of Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a Johnson & Johnson company.

—BioAtla, a San Diego-based antibody therapeutics developer, and Providence, RI-based EpiVax said they have agreed to incorporate EpiVax’s proprietary immunogenicity screening technology into BioAtla’s technology for boosting the binding capabilities of humanized antibodies. In a statement, the companies said combining the two technologies is expected to increase the success rate of biotherapeutic drugs.

—It was front-page news back in 2009 when ExxonMobil said it would spend up to $600 million to develop algae-based biofuels in collaboration with San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics. But the partnership ran aground in 2011 after an algal strain that produced oil in a greenhouse failed to perform at an ExxonMobil facility in Texas, according to a Bloomberg news report. Contract changes by ExxonMobil led Synthetic Genomics to lay off more than half of the employees working on biofuels for the company. Synthetic Genomics spokeswoman Heather Kowalski told Bloomberg the effort now focuses on long-term R&D instead of commercial production.