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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Auspex, Hyperion, NuVasive, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Xconomy national biotech editor Alex Lash is out wandering in the desert this week, so I’m stepping in as drover, and as biotech herds go, the one I’m rounding up today covers a lot of territory. Down San Diego way, Auspex Pharmaceuticals said “Okey Dokey” to a buyout offer worth close to $3.5 billion. Up in Northern California, Horizon Pharma used $1.1 billion to tie down Brisbane, CA-based Hyperion Therapeutics. And then there was Sarepta Therapeutics, which started out in Bothell, WA, and strayed all the way to Cambridge, MA, where the company parted ways with CEO Chris Garabedian. We’re burnin’ daylight, so might as well get to it.

—Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries agreed to buy San Diego-based Auspex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ASPX) in a cash deal valued between $3.2 billion and $3.5 billion. The buyout caps a smart bet that Thomas McNerney Partners made in 2007, when the venture firm led a change in strategy at Auspex that focused on developing deuterium-based analogs of FDA-approved drugs for Huntington’s disease and other central nervous system disorders. In December, Auspex said its lead drug candidate clearly reduced the involuntary movements (chorea) associated with Huntington’s disease in a late-stage clinical trial.

—Meanwhile, San Diego’s Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ: NBIX) said it entered into an exclusive agreement with Japan’s Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma to commercialize its drug in certain Asian markets. The Neurocrine drug, designated NBI-98854, also treats the chorea associated with Huntington’s disease and tardive dyskinesia. Neurocrine will get $30 million upfront, as much as $85 million in milestone payments, and royalties on product sales if approved.

—In another big buyout deal this week, Ireland’s Horizon Pharma (NASDAQ: HZNP) said Monday it is acquiring Brisbane, CA-based Hyperion Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HPTX) for $1.1 billion, or $46 per share. Horizon gets two therapies Hyperion developed for a rare genetic disease, called urea cycle disorder, which leads to a buildup of ammonia in the blood.

—NuVasive (NASDAQ: NUVA), the San Diego maker of specialized products for minimally invasive spinal surgery, left much unsaid Wednesday when it disclosed that chairman and CEO Alex Lukianov had resigned over violations of company personnel and expense reimbursement policies. Lukianov’s exit raised questions in part because it was preceded in January by the unexpected departure of NuVasive President and COO Keith Valentine. A NuVasive spokeswoman confirmed that the company remains under investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, which issued an administrative subpoena against the company almost two years ago. So far, however, no charges have been filed.

—Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, agreed to pay as much as $750 million to acquire Berkeley, CA-based Aduro Biotech, and its technology for triggering a sustained immune response against a variety of cancers. Novartis combined the deal with an announcement that Glenn Dranoff of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute will lead a new research group dedicated to the discovery and development of innovative cancer immunotherapies.

—After Amgen unveiled its plan to pull out of Washington last summer, local biotech industry backers had hoped the Amgen Helix campus along Elliott Bay would find a second life hosting another biotech company. But under a deal announced today, the online travel giant Expedia is paying $228.9 million for the Helix campus, and plans to move in by 2018.

Jennifer Doudna, the UC Berkeley scientist who helped develop an easy-to-use technique to edit DNA, answered some questions from Xconomy national biotech editor Alex Lash about her call for a moratorium on using the technology for any treatments that would cause heritable changes in DNA until more research can be done. Doudna heads the new Innovative Genomics Initiative in Berkeley, and led the group of 18 scientists who published a letter in Science magazine calling for a moratorium.

—In his “In Translation” column, Xconomy’s Alex Lash highlighted the challenges of the government’s new initiative in precision medicine, which includes an effort to develop a whole genome database of 1 million Americans. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of interoperability among various electronic health records.

—San Diego’s aTyr Pharma said it has raised $76 million in a round that includes a number of prominent public investment funds as well as several unnamed institutional investors, prompting speculation that an IPO may not be far behind. The latest round brings total financing for aTyr (pronounced A-tire) to at least $184 million since the company was founded in 2005.

—San Diego’s Cypher Genomics said new data shows that its Mantis technology for interpreting the significance of variants in a patient’s whole genome sequence was “highly equivalent” to a panel of experts. Cypher said its software technology could pave the way for more comprehensive genetic analyses in non-invasive prenatal testing.

—Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) CEO Chris Garabedian, who steered the company from a biotech afterthought to one of Wall Street’s darlings, and from Bothell, WA, to Cambridge, MA, resigned Tuesday. Edward Kaye will serve as the company’s interim CEO.