San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Illumina, Vital Therapies, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Some big trends in molecular diagnostics, wireless health, and Big Data are converging, and San Diego seems to be one of the places where they are coming together. A few examples are here, along with the rest of the week’s life sciences news.

—The Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center, based in Menlo Park, CA, and with a second facility in San Diego, has joined forces with a drug discovery initiative launched by the San Diego-based Scripps Research Institute. As part of the collaboration, Scripps Advance will help J&J find drug discovery partners among emerging life sciences startups, as well as scientists and entrepreneurs who are part of the Scripps Advance network.

—Venture capital firms pumped $243 million into 23 startup companies in the San Diego area during the first quarter that ended in March, according to data from the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association, and Thomson Reuters. About $178 million of that, or 73 percent, went to 13 life sciences companies in San Diego County, including Lumena Pharmaceuticals, which raised $45.5 million in the biggest deal of the quarter.

—San Diego-based Illumina, a leading maker of genome sequencing equipment and supplies, said its first-quarter revenue jumped by 27 percent, driven chiefly by “unprecedented demand” for its new $10 million HiSeq X Ten genome sequencing machine. The company reported revenue of nearly $420.8 million in the quarter that ended in March, compared with $391.7 million in the same quarter last year. Illumina CEO Jay Flatley said demand for the HiSeq X Ten “exceeded our most aggressive assumptions,” according to a transcript of the company’s conference call at Seeking Alpha.

—A San Diego semiconductor startup, Edico Genome, has begun to raise capital to advance semiconductor technology that is intended to address a bottleneck in the way data generated by Illumina’s HiSeq X Ten and other next-generation sequencing machines gets processed. Edico Genome says its proprietary Dragen processor, which is mounted on a standard computer expansion bus, would reduce the time needed to map a human genome from 20 hours or more to 20 minutes.

—Don Jones, who left Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) at the beginning of March to become the first “chief digital officer” at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, also is the first San Diegan to be named “Digital Health Innovator of the Year.” Rick Valencia of Qualcomm Life and Rory Moore of San Diego’s CommNexus industry group surprised Jones with the award during a CommNexus “Headliners” event on digital health innovation. In his new job at Scripps, Jones said, “I’m moving to a role where I think we’ll see the next phase in the history of wireless health, which is in validation of the technology.”

—After pricing its IPO at $12 a share last week, shares of San Diego’s Vital Therapies (NASDAQ: VTL) oscillated around $12 a share on the Nasdaq market. Vital Therapies raised a total of $54 million in the initial offering, and has earmarked proceeds to advance development of the company’s artificial liver technology, which is intended to operate much like a dialysis machine for patients with severe liver disease.

—Solana Beach, CA-based Evoke Pharma said it has begun enrolling 200 patients in a late-stage clinical trial of its lead drug candidate among women with diabetic gastroparesis, a condition that slows stomach emptying, causing nausea, heartburn, and swings in blood sugar levels. Evoke has been developing a formulation of metoclopramide that can be delivered as a nasal spray. The company says the drug gets into the bloodstream faster by using a nasal delivery rather than a pill taken orally.

—San Diego-based Accelrys (NASDAQ: ACCL), which provides software to manage scientific innovation, introduced two new mobile applications that support scientific collaboration and life sciences workflows. The company, which agreed to a $750 million buyout offer from Dassault Systemes in January, said the new offerings are available in the Apple App Store.

Xconomy has hired Alex Lash, a longtime biotech reporter based in San Francisco, as our new National Biotech Editor. Alex was previously the biopharma editor of Start-Up, part of a prestigious family of publications at Elsevier that also includes The Pink Sheet and In Vivo. Xconomy also named longtime contributor Elise Craig as Xconomy San Francisco Editor. Our previous Xconomy San Francisco Editor, the inimitable Wade Roush, will remain in the Bay Area, but he has been unleashed for a more wide-ranging role as Xconomy Editor at Large.