San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Zogenix, Arena, Sorrento, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s Zogenix ran up against new political opposition to its opioid pain-killer, Zohydro. I have a rundown on the latest chapter in the ongoing Zohydro saga, along with the rest of the local life sciences news.

—Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a statewide public health emergency last week to combat the growing abuse of opiates. As part of the ban, Patrick has prohibited the sale of Zohydro ER—the extended release formulation of pure hydrocodone made by San Diego-based Zogenix. In a statement, Zogenix said it was unprecedented for the governor to single out a specific FDA-approved prescription medication: “Most other opioid medications on the market today are both equal to or more potent than Zohydro ER (e.g., oxycodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone and oxymorphone), and all are available in higher strengths per unit-of-use than Zohydro ER. Claims that Zohydro ER is ‘more powerful’ or ‘more addictive’ than other commonly prescribed opioids are not supported by scientific data.”

—San Diego’s RuiYi said it has raised $15 million to advance its pipeline of monoclonal antibody drug candidates in China. RuiYi CEO Paul Grayson said the company has a series of technologies for selecting and producing monoclonal antibodies with unique pharmacological characteristics that could make them highly selective and long acting—resulting in significantly lower production costs.

—San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) said it has begun testing lorcaserin (Belviq), which is already approved as a  weight-loss drug, in mid-stage clinical trials to help smokers kick the habit. The 12-week trial, conducted with the Japanese drugmaker Eisai, will enroll about 600 active smokers. In a regulatory filing, Arena said lorcaserin is believed to selectively activate receptors in the brain that may play a role in addiction to nicotine, but the exact mechanism of action is not known. The efficacy and safety of lorcaserin for smoking cessation have not been established.

—The San Diego-based Gary and Mary West Health Investment Fund invested $7.5 million in Reflexion Health, a San Diego startup developing technology that uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing system to help physical therapy patients with their rehab. Including the latest funding, the West Health Investment Fund has put $11.75 million into Reflexion Health.

—San Diego-based Halozyme Therapeutics, (NASDAQ: HALO) said the European Commission (EC) has approved a new subcutaneous formulation of rituximab (MabThera), submitted by its strategic partner Roche, for patients with certain lymphomas. It is the second European approval for one of Roche’s cancer drugs using Halozyme’s patented recombinant human hyaluronidase technology. The technology enables patients to get a subcutaneous injection that takes minutes instead of an intravenous administration that takes hours.

—San Diego’s aTyr Pharma named David Weiner as its chief medical officer. Weiner, who held key leadership positions at Proteostasis, Merck Serono, and Acadia Pharmaceuticals, will spearhead aTyr’s efforts to develop physiocrine-based therapeutics to treat rare, grave immune disorders.

—San Antonio, TX-based AirStrip acquired technology developed by San Diego’s Sense4Baby that enables doctors and other healthcare providers to monitor high-risk pregnancies on a smartphone or tablet. The Sense4Baby technology “mobilizes” maternal-fetal waveform data. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

—San Diego’s Sorrento Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRNE), a late-stage clinical oncology company developing new treatments for cancer and associated pain, said it formed a new subsidiary, Ark Animal Therapeutics. Ark plans to initially develop resiniferatoxin (RTX) for treatment of pain associated with osteosarcoma in companion dogs. Ark also seeks to develop multiple veterinary health applications and vaccines against recurrent staphylococcal infections.