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San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Topera, Afraxis, Trovagene, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

It was a week of deals, deals, and more deals for San Diego’s life sciences sector. Here’s my rundown.

—San Diego’s Abide Therapeutics entered into a drug development collaboration with Merck, the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant, that could eventually be worth as much as $430 million for Abide. Founded just two years ago, Abide has developed proprietary technology to identify small molecules that block the activity of a superfamily of enzymes known as serine hydrolases, which are associated with a wide range of diseases and disorders. Abide agreed to use its technology to help Merck develop three new drugs for treating type 2 diabetes.

—San Diego-based Topera Medical, which has been developing diagnostic technology and software to pinpoint the origins of electrical impulses that cause abnormal heartbeats, said it has closed on $25 million in a Series C round of financing that was led by New Enterprise Associates, a new investor. Topera, founded in the Boston area in 2008, has developed technology that gives electrophysiologists a dynamic, 3-D view of the heart’s electrical activity during cardiac ablation. The round included funding from an unnamed strategic industry partner and existing investors.

—When San Diego-based Afraxis licensed all of its proprietary drug compounds in a $187.5 million deal with Roche’s Genentech in January, it looked like the company’s work would end on Fragile X syndrome, a leading cause of mental retardation, because it was not part of the deal. But Afraxis restarted last month under the leadership of a new CEO, Carmine Stengone (who led negotiations in the licensing deal with Roche), with Christopher Rex as chief scientific officer. Afraxis is now focusing its business on proprietary technology that can be used to assess the preclinical safety and efficacy of drug candidates in central nervous system disorders—including Fragile X syndrome. Afraxis also said it had signed a non-exclusive collaboration to work with Servier, the French pharmaceutical company also known as Institut de Recherches Servier.

—In his BioBeat column, Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman explains why Thermo Fisher Scientific’s (NYSE: TMO) $13.6 billion buyout of Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) represents more of an opportunity than an obstacle for San Diego-based Illumina. He describes Illumina as the unrivaled No. 1 in the fast-emerging field of high-speed DNA sequencing.

—The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency awarded an $11 million contract to Ichor Medical Systems of San Diego to assess the feasibility and practicality of developing a broad spectrum DNA vaccine for immunizing people against three strains of equine encephalitis virus. The agency provides funding to develop medical countermeasures for biodefense agents and emerging pathogens. Ichor has been collaborating with partners to develop technology for electroporation-mediated delivery of DNA drugs and vaccines in humans.

—Under an agreement with PerkinElmer Health Sciences, San Diego-based Trovagene (NASDAQ: TROV) said it will design a diagnostic test to determine an individual’s risk for developing hepatocellular carcinoma. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Trovagene said their agreement includes milestone payments. Trovagene has developed a proprietary method for isolating fragments of nucleic acids that pass through the kidneys—and uses its technology to test for specific genetic material in urine samples. The company disclosed its collaboration in a regulatory filing.

—-San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) said it paid $3.5 million to acquire more than 15 biologic drug development programs from Selexis, the drugmaker based in Geneva, Switzerland. Ligand said each program is fully funded by a development partner, and the assets include drug candidates for treating cancer, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. Ligand agreed to pay an additional $1 million in one year.

—A team of computational biologists and computer scientists working under the guidance of Trey Ideker, chief of genetics at the UC San Diego School of Medicine (and a San Diego Xconomist) completed a comprehensive update of Cytoscape—the leading open source visualization software supporting systems biology. Although it was originally designed for biological research, UCSD said Cytoscape has become a general platform for complex network analysis and visualization, with additional applications in software engineering and the study of social networks. There are about 6,000 downloads a month.