West Coast Biotech Roundup: Alder IPO, Exelixis, Corcept, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

It was a big week for synthetic biology in San Diego, a bit rocky for Bothell, WA-based Alder’s IPO, and South San Francisco’s Exelixis had some encouraging results from an early-stage trial of melanoma patients. Here’s our wrap-up.

—A new San Diego startup called Synthorx is working to capitalize on a breakthrough in synthetic biology developed by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute. The team, led by chemist Floyd Romesberg, successfully inserted synthesized nucleotides into bacteria, which replicated with the altered DNA. Someday, scientists might be able to use altered DNA them to make new proteins that would function in a completely different way from those created naturally.

—Meanwhile, San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics signed a multi-year R&D agreement with a United Therapeutics subsidiary, Lung Biotechnology, to use its synthetic genomics technology to develop pigs with organs that have been humanized for future xenotransplantation. Synthetic Genomics CEO J. Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer, said the idea will require modifying an unprecedented number of pig genes.

—In another sign that the biotech IPO market is flagging, Bothell, WA-based Alder Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALDR) priced its IPO at $10 a share, well below its projected range of $13 to $15 per share. Alder has been developing clazakizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis drug, with Bristol-Myers Squibb, and recently presented positive results for an antibody drug for migraines. Boston’s Cerulean Pharma (NASDAQ: CERU) and Burlington, MA-based Aldeyra Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALDX) also sold IPO shares below their target ranges.

—South San Francisco-based Exelixis (NASDAQ: EXEL) posted some encouraging data in an early stage clinical trial that combines the experimental Exelixis drug cobimetinib with Roche’s approved drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf) in patients with advanced melanoma. For 63 patients who had never received vemurafenib previously, the combination of vemurafenib and cobimetinib led to an anti-tumor response of some kind in 87 percent, with 10 percent showing a complete disappearance of the cancer. Exelixis received its first drug approval in 2012 for the thyroid cancer treatment cabozantinib.

—Menlo Park, CA-based Corcept Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CORT) said it halted a late-stage trial for its psychotic depression drug mifepristone after an interim analysis showed the trial would not meet its goal of quickly reducing psychotic symptoms. Corcept shares fell by more than 50 percent after the announcement, ending regular trading Wednesday at $1.99 a share.

—Santa Clara, CA-based ProteinSimple disclosed its plans for an IPO, although the company said the number of shares to be offered and the price range has not yet been determined. ProteinSimple makes proprietary systems and consumables used in protein analysis.

—San Diego’s Ambrx hopes to raise as much as $86 million through an IPO to advance its technology for developing protein therapeutics for treating cancers, diabetes, and other diseases and disorders. Ambrx specializes in antibody-drug conjugates, and is working independently and under strategic partnerships signed with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Eli Lilly, Zhejiang Medicine, and others.

—A spokesman for Solana Beach, CA-based Evoke Pharma (NASDAQ: EVOK), which has been developing a nasal spray formulation of metoclopramide for treating gastroparesis in women with diabetes, told me by e-mail that results of a mid-stage study showed its drug was well-tolerated and patients exhibited “statistically significant symptomatic improvement.” Evoke Pharma’s data was presented last weekend in Chicago at Digestive Disease Week 2014. Diabetic gastroparesis is a complication of diabetes in which the stomach doesn’t empty food into the intestine quickly enough, leading to abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting.