San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Aragon, Santarus, Tocagen, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

The $1 billion buyout of San Diego’s Aragon Pharmaceuticals is expected to greatly expand Johnson & Johnson’s drug pipeline for treating prostate cancer. We have that at the top of San Diego’s life sciences news, along with other developments over the past week.

—Moving to capitalize on the success of its prostate cancer drug, abiraterone acetate (Zytiga), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Diego-based Aragon Pharmaceuticals for an upfront cash payment of $650 million and as much as $350 million in milestone payments. Aragon specializes in developing drugs for hormone-driven cancers, and the deal could extend J&J’s reign with Aragon’s pipeline of drugs targeting castration-resistant prostate cancer. Before the deal closes, Aragon said it plans to spin out its drug program targeting metastatic breast cancer in a newly formed biotech called Seragon Pharmaceuticals. The billion-dollar deal had one major side-effect—the share price of San Francisco-based Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) took a hit on the news. Medivation is a rival developer of drugs for hormone-driven prostate cancer.

—San Diego-based Santarus (NASDAQ: SNTS) said the FDA has accepted the application it submitted with partner Pharming Group NV to commercialize recombinant human C1 esterase inhibitor (Ruconest) in the United States. The biologic was developed as a treatment for a rapid, dangerous swelling of the skin known as hereditary angioedema. The FDA’s response is expected by April, 2014.

—In a separate announcement, Santarus CEO Gerald Proehl was named as the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in life sciences in San Diego.

Voices Against Brain Cancer, a nonprofit group based in New York, awarded a $300,000 grant to San Diego-based Tocagen to support its experimental gene therapy treatment for patients with recurrent glioma brain cancer. Tocagen is now enrolling patients in an early stage clinical trial that uses a retrovirus to produce the enzyme cytosine deaminase (CD) in the brains of patients with brain cancer, including those with the aggressive malignancy known as glioblastoma multiforme. The CD enzyme converts an extended-release formulation of a widely used antifungal drug into 5-fluorouracil, an FDA-approved anticancer drug. The approach has the potential to produce higher concentrations of the anticancer drug in tumor cells.

—San Diego’s MediciNova (NASDAQ: MNOV) said an early stage trial of its experimental compound for treating drug addition, known as MN-166 (ibudilast), is safe and suggests that MN-166 reduces the neurotoxic inflammation caused by methamphetamine abuse. Long-term meth use can lead to memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior, and other medical problems. The FDA granted “fast track” status earlier this year to ibudilast for treating methamphatamine dependence, after MediciNova had a setback with its lead drug compound.

Verdezyne, an industrial biotechnology company based in Carlsbad, CA, said it has entered into collaboration with Malaysian Biotechnology Corp. to establish its first biochemical production facility in Malaysia. The two companies disclosed no financial terms when they announced the deal at BIO’s 10th Annual World Congress for Industrial Biotechnology in Montreal. In a statement, Verdezyne said it is optimistic that its presence in Malaysia will open new opportunities with a variety of potential partners in the palm oil industry.