San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Lithera, CardioCell, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

ResMed founder Peter Farrell was characteristically outspoken, funny, and acerbic as he talked about the origins of Carlsbad-based ResMed at a luncheon in his honor. I have the details, along with the rest of San Diego’s life sciences news over the past week.

Lithera, a San Diego biotech developing an injectable drug for reducing belly fat, said it closed a Series C round of financing after raising $35.6 million, far more than the company’s initial goal of $20 million to $25 million. Lithera plans to use the proceeds to advance its lead product candidate, an injectable version of salmeterol xinafoate. The FDA already has approved salmeterol as an aerosol inhalant for treating asthma.

—Bob Klein, the Portola Valley lawyer and real estate developer who led the 2004 initiative that approved California’s $3 billion bond issue for stem cell research, said he wants to raise another $5 billion to extend the program. Klein outlined his proposal in San Diego yesterday in a presentation at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, according to a report by Brad Fikes in U-T San Diego. Klein told a symposium of cancer researchers he would work to get an initiative on the ballot to extend funding for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state stem cell agency. Funding under the program voters approved in 2004 is expected to run out in 2017.

—Connect, the San Diego nonprofit program that supports technology innovation and entrepreneurship, inducted ResMed (NYSE: RMD) founder Peter Farrell into its Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame. Connect honored Farrell for “his lifelong dedication to research innovation in the fields of sleep and respiratory,” and his impact on the San Diego community. The Carlsbad-based company Farrell started in 1989 for about $1 million specializes in medical technology for treating sleep-disordered breathing—and today has a market valuation of more than $6.5 billion. My favorite quote about Farrell came from Pyxis founder Ron Taylor, who said, “Peter doesn’t use brakes. He accelerates through everything. We call him the wild man.”

— In his BioBeat column, my colleague Luke Timmerman said the molecular diagnostics industry needs a tough, science-minded, credible regulator … who can comb through complex data sets and say with confidence what’s real, what’s clinically meaningful,” and what isn’t. Luke argues that the industry needs clarity and certainty, and some highly technical markets tend to function better with tough, trusted regulatory bodies. My favorite line: “An unregulated Wild West free market is great if you’re selling books online or consumer smartphone apps. It’s not such a great thing when you’re talking about credit-default swaps or cancer drugs.”

—San Diego’s CardioCell, a new company spun out last year from Stemedica, said it has begun two clinical trials of a new potential stem-cell therapy for recent heart attack patients. CardioCell said its proprietary stem-cell technology has the potential to be more effective than other treatments for heart attacks. The company is running both a mid-stage study in the United States, and a late-stage trial in the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities (NYSE: ARE), a commercial landlord for life sciences companies in San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, and other U.S. cities, has expanded its venture investment practice to include digital health startups, according to Dow Jones VentureWire. No specific deals were mentioned. At the end of last year, Alexandria listed investments of about $140 million on its balance sheet, according to its financial statement for the quarter ending Dec. 31. Most of that cash is invested in private companies, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of Alexandria’s earnings call.

—San Diego ranked among the top five metropolitan regions receiving venture capital funding for life sciences startups during the last three months of 2013, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis of fourth-quarter VC activity based on MoneyTree data . San Diego’s life sciences community ranked fourth in VC investments, and here is the rundown: San Francisco Bay ($550 million); Boston ($382 million); Seattle ($186 million); San Diego Metro ($95 million); and New York Metro ($83 million). The top five regions accounted for 73 percent of the dollars invested in life sciences companies in the fourth quarter of 2013.

—Dr. Laura Esserman, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at UC San Francisco, became the first recipient of the Duane Roth Award, an honor created by the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center to honor champions of translational oncology. The award also is intended to recognize the contributions of the late Duane Roth, the Connect CEO and San Diego life sciences executive who died in a bicycling accident last summer. The award was announced as part of yesterday’s UCSD Moores Cancer Center Office of Industry Relation’s 10th annual Industry/Academy Translational Oncology Symposium.