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West Coast Biotech Roundup: BioMarin, Tocagen, Medivation, Twelve

Xconomy San Diego — 

For the ancient Greeks, the rising of the dog star Sirius brought on the sweltering heat of summer, and August came to be associated with languid days of heat, drought, and fire.

That might sound like the weather that has descended on the West Coast. But in the ancient texts, the dog days of summer are over by late August—and we’re just getting started. In Southern California, the hot desert winds come down from the mountain passes like runaway freight trains in the fall. Anything can happen. Stocks explode upward after days of monster losses. Google spins out its life sciences group. And I step in as master of ceremonies for our roundup of West Coast life sciences news. So here are this week’s revelations…

—Late last week Alphabet president Sergey Brin announced in a blog post that the Google X life sciences group would be the first to get more autonomy under Google’s new Alphabet holding-company strategy. The as-yet-unnamed life sciences group will still be headed by Andy Conrad, who has been overseeing projects like the Baseline health study and a “smart” contact lens while part of the Google X skunkworks.

—BioMarin (NASDAQ: BMRN) sold its late-stage breast cancer drug talazoparib to Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) for $410 million upfront and $160 million more in possible milestones. The deal gives San Francisco’s Medivation a near-term possibility for a second commercial product, and it gives Novato, CA-based BioMarin cash as it prepares for a possible approval of its drug drisapersen for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The FDA is due to decide whether to approve drisapersen or not in late December.

—Medical device giant Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) bought Twelve, a Redwood City, CA-based startup working on a transcatheter mitral valve replacement. Twelve is so named because it’s the 12th company spun out of Bay Area medical device incubator The Foundry. Medtronic agreed to pay as much as $458 million.

—After co-founding Inception Sciences in San Diego and establishing the Blueline Bioscience incubator in Toronto, San Francisco’s Versant Ventures has created Highline Therapeutics in New York to spin new drug companies. Versant’s Carlo Rizzuto told Xconomy’s Ben Fidler that Highline Therapeutics will work with big research institutions to assess the commercial potential of early stage R&D, and create startups around the most promising ideas.

—San Diego-based Dexcom (NASDAQ: DXCM), said the FDA approved its latest blood glucose monitoring system, which eliminates a receiver by using Bluetooth technology to transmit glucose data directly to a smartphone or iOS-based device. Users also can share their data by designating as many as five people to receive the data.

—Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) submitted a new drug application for etelcalcetide, its treatment for secondary hyperparathyroidism (SHPT) in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) on hemodialysis.

—Tocagen, a San Diego startup using gene therapy to treat brain cancer, said the FDA gave its orphan drug designation to the company’s lead candidates, Toca 511 & Toca FC, which convert a benign prodrug into an anticancer drug that kills tumor cells and activates the immune system. The company says it is poised to move into a pivotal clinical trial later this year for treating recurrent glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma.

—San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) and the molecular diagnostics firm Burning Rock of Guangzhou, China, agreed to work together to develop cancer diagnostic products for the Chinese market, based on Illumina’s gene-sequencing technology.

—Another molecular diagnostics company, Sunnyvale, CA-based Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD) has been working to improve deficiencies in the production of Cepheid’s norovirus assay at its European plant in Solna, Sweden. In a warning letter made public this week, the FDA says the site does not meet requirements for good manufacturing practices.

—NuVasive, the San Diego maker of medical devices and tools used in spine surgery, said it plans to build a new manufacturing plant in San Diego that would employ more than 300 people.