San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Effector, Ignyta, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

A startup with a new approach to cancer drug development made its debut this week in San Diego. We’ve got the details, along with other local news in life sciences and industrial biotechnology.

Effector Therapeutics, a San Diego startup developing anti-cancer drugs based on technology licensed from UC San Francisco, raised $45 million in a Series A round of venture financing. Steve Worland, the former CEO of Anadys Pharmaceuticals, founded Effector with UCSF scientists Kevan Shokat and Davide Ruggero, whose research has focused on translation control and cancer. Effector said it seeks to develop small-molecule drugs for targets that continue to drive a cell toward cancer, even after a key oncogene has been silenced. Investors include GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One, Novartis Venture Funds, Astellas Venture Management, Abingworth, Osage University Partners, U.S. Venture Partners and Mission Bay Capital.

—San Diego-based Ignyta, founded with technology from UC San Diego to improve the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, said it has acquired Actagene, a San Diego startup developing personalized medicines for unmet cancer needs. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal broadens Ignyta’s model for “companion diagnostics”-–using its expertise in genetic and epigenetic diagnostics to optimize therapeutic treatments in cancer as well as immune disorders.

—San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics said it had reached a new agreement with ExxonMobil to co-fund development of algae biofuels, but financial terms were not disclosed. The two companies generated front-page news in 2009 when ExxonMobil unveiled a partnership with Synthetic Genomics and said it planned to invest $600 million to develop algae-based biofuels. But ExxonMobil slashed its funding for the program two years later, according to a published report. Synthetic Genomics described the new agreement as a basic science research program that enables the company to use its synthetic biology technologies to genetically improve algal strains.

—San Diego’s Sapphire Energy named Matthew Croughan as chief technology officer, a new position. The company, which has been producing algae-based crude oil at a pilot plant in New Mexico, said Croughan is a renowned engineer with expertise in industrial bioprocessing. He previously held an endowed chair at the Amgen Bioprocessing Center at the Keck Graduate Institute of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. Sapphire said Croughan will guide the company’s efforts expand the commercial scale its “green crude” technologies.

—San Diego biomedical entrepreneur and expatriot Richard A. Cramer, who founded the medical infusion pump makers Ivac and Imed, died in Monaco, according to a report in U-T San Diego. He was 79. Cramer was chief engineer of the Sharp Laboratory Division of Beckman Instruments when he started Ivac in 1968, applying revolutionary advances made in microprocessors to medical devices—including an electronic thermometer and automated medical infusion pump. Cramer lost control of Ivac in a divisive proxy battle in 1972, and founded Imed. He sold Imed to Warner-Lambert a decade later for a record $465 million, but he later became embroiled in a prolonged tax dispute with the IRS. He left the U.S. in 1993 to live in Monaco.