San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Orexigen, Avalon, GSK, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Here’s my pre-holiday wrap-up of San Diego’s life sciences news. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

—San Diego’s Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX) said it plans to resubmit its new drug application for its obesity drug, which combines bupropion and naltrexone (Contrave), after additional analysis showed it did not increase heart-related risks. Orexigen shares climbed about 17 percent on the news, with trading above $6.50 a share today, after closing Friday at $5.67 a share. The FDA demanded more data showing that Contrave didn’t put patients at risk for heart attacks, as some weight-loss drugs have.

—Avalon Ventures took the wraps off Sitari Pharmaceuticals, the first company established by Avalon and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: NYSE) under a collaboration formed earlier this year to fund and launch as many as 10 life sciences startups in San Diego. Sitari, which is developing new drugs for treating celiac disease, raised $10 million in Series A financing from Avalon Ventures and GSK, and will get R&D support. Avalon, based in San Diego and Boston, also unveiled a new business entity in San Diego called COI Pharmaceuticals. Avalon plans to use COI as a shared R&D resource to accelerate Avalon-funded startups. In fact, COI is an acronym for “Community of Innovation.”

—As part of a broader move into the West Coast, GSK said it is establishing its first office in San Diego to help manage its relationships with Avalon Ventures and other VCs, and to prospect for new opportunities in drugs, biologics, vaccines, and other products. GSK vice president Damien McDevitt is moving to San Diego to head the new R&D hub, which will initially employ between five and 10 scientists and business development executives.

—Trevor Mundel, president of global health operations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met with Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman in his Seattle office to discuss his work for the world’s largest charitable foundation. In part 1, Mundel explained how the Gates foundation makes decisions on how to spend its money. He also talked enthusiastically about some immunology work being done at a Gates Foundation investment called Atreca, a spinout from Stanford University. In part 2, Mundel explained how the Gates foundation interacts with pharma and biotech companies.

—While many institutional investors seem to have lost their enthusiasm for life sciences IPOs, it’s worth noting that San Diego’s Tandem Diabetes Care (NASDAQ: TNDM) has soared by more than 45 percent since the company priced its initial public offering at $15 a share on Nov. 13. Shares of Tandem Diabetes, which sells a wearable insulin pump, have gained almost $7 and are trading near $22 in mid-day trading today. With several weeks remaining in the year, the IPO tally for 2013 at the IPO investment firm Renaissance Capital currently stands at 209.

—J. Craig Venter, the founding CEO of San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics, plans to deliver a keynote presentation about his work to develop what he calls a digital biological converter at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit, set for Dec. 8 – 11 in downtown San Diego. Venter recently met with Andy Pollock of The New York Times to explain the technology, which takes genomic data sequenced and transmitted from some faraway location, assembles an identical copy of the genome and insert it into “blank” cells. Venter says the technology could be used to sequence life on Mars and reproduce it on Earth.