San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Ignyta, Conatus, Liver Prize & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Rust never sleeps, and neither does the news. Here’s my wrap-up of the latest developments from San Diego’s life sciences community.

—San Diego-based Ignyta, which trades over the counter under the ticker symbol RXDX, said it has raised a total of $54 million through two private placements. Ignyta, which intends to move to the Nasdaq market, plans to use the proceeds primarily to advance two anti-cancer compounds the company licensed from an Italian biopharmaceutical as part of its diagnostic and-drug strategy in precision medicine.

—The Methuselah Foundation, a medical charity based in Springfield, VA, issued a challenge to the field of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine yesterday at the World Stem Cell Summit at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. The foundation is offering a $1 million prize to the first team that can create a bioengineered replacement for the natural liver of a large mammal. The bioengineered liver has to enable the host to recover in the absence of its own liver function and survive at least 90 days with a normal lifestyle. The New Organ Liver Prize is intended to serve as the first in a series of whole organ challenges and awards designed to help solve the global organ shortage, which affects millions of people around the world.

—San Diego’s Telephus Medical is developing a new therapy intended to help prevent a recurrence of prosthetic joint infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus, the most common bug affecting knee and hip implants. Founded on technology licensed from the University of Rochester, Telephus Medical is seeking to raise a $5 million Series A round to advance the company’s lead product to Phase I trials in 2016.

—San Diego’s Conatus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CNAT) said the FDA has granted orphan status to its drug candidate emricasan, a compound intended to delay cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease in liver transplant patients. In a statement, Conatus co-founder and CEO Stephen Mento says, “The FDA’s orphan drug designation of emricasan for treatment of liver transplant patients with reestablished fibrosis reinforces the critical need for alternatives to the only currently available treatment, which is a second transplant.”

Sense4Baby, a San Diego startup incubating in the West Health Institute, said the FDA has issued its regulatory OK to the company’s wireless maternal-fetal heart rate monitoring system, which enables non-stress testing for high-risk pregnancies on a smartphone or tablet. The company says the European Commission also has given its approval for commercialization. High-risk pregnancies require frequent fetal monitoring, and the Sense4Baby system is now cleared for health care practitioners in the United States and Europe.

—In his BioBeat column, Luke identified three American life sciences companies that seemed to match the criteria that James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras considered in 1994, when they published their business best-seller “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.” Check out what he has to say about San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: [[ticker: ILMN]]), Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GID), and Redwood City, CA-based Genomic Health (NASDAQ: [[TICKER:GHDX]]). Luke will host an Xconomy event entitled “Building Biotechs to Last” in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 9.