[Corrected 1/19/16, 10:10 am. See below.] Last week’s annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference put the biotech industry’s biggest event on display, as some 9,000 life sciences executives and investors descended upon San Francisco. Unfortunately, as Bloomberg News pointed out, the industry’s lack of gender diversity also was on display—most egregiously at a LifeSci Advisors party that sought to balance the shortage of women in biotech with models in black cocktail dresses.
From the business side of the conference, Xconomy’s Alex Lash and Ben Fidler offer their highlights here. I’ve got the rest of the West Coast life sciences news wrapped up here.
—San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), the world’s largest DNA sequencing company, says it is forming Grail, a new San Francisco-based startup, to advance so-called “liquid biopsy” technology that can routinely screen patient blood samples for cancer. Illumina CEO Jay Flatley says that using genome sequencing to identify infinitesimal pieces of tumor DNA circulating in the bloodstream (about 0.01 percent of the blood sample) would be a “turning point in the war on cancer.”
—Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) of Seattle bought private AbVitro, a maker of single cell sequencing technology, for $125 million in cash and stock. Juno’s T cell therapies have shown promise in clinical trials fighting blood-borne cancers, but the AbVitro technology would help Juno extend its efforts into treatments for solid tumors, Juno officials said.
—UC San Diego announced the appointment of Howard Feldman, a doctor and scientist who specializes in dementia, to oversee the Alzheimer’s Disease Collaborative Study, a nationwide research program at the heart of a power struggle between UCSD and USC. Litigation between the two research universities over control of the program has been playing out since last summer. In a ruling issued last week, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez signaled his intent to issue a written order in the case. A UC San Diego spokesman said Feldman’s recruitment offer included $10 million to set up his laboratory and support his research, and an annual salary of $390,000.
—In other sequencing news, 10X Genomics of Pleasanton, CA, unveiled a new version of its GemCode platform for single-cell RNA sequencing at the J.P. Morgan Conference, saying it enables detailed gene-expression profiling on a cell-by-cell basis. San Diego’s Illumina launched a desktop MiniSeq Sequencing System, saying it enables a broad range of DNA and RNA sequencing applications.
—Immune Design (NASDAQ: IMDZ), based both in Seattle and South San Francisco, CA, said it has received orphan drug designation from the FDA for the two components of its treatment CMB305. Immune Design is currently in Phase 2 testing for soft tissue sarcoma, in combination with Genentech’s atezolizumab.
—Healthcare software maker Syapse of Palo Alto, CA, closed the first tranche of a $25 million Series C round led by the venture arm of health provider Ascension.
—Kodiak Sciences, the Palo Alto, CA-based biopharmaceutical developing new drugs for eye disease, said it has closed on a $34 million Series B financing round that was led by an unnamed U.S. life sciences investor. With the latest round, Kodiak has raised more than $60 million altogether.
—Two West Coast firms struck oncology deals, but didn’t divulge financial details. San Francisco’s Gritstone Oncology said it would license intellectual property, tools, and data from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Seattle’s Adaptive Biotechnologies said it would team up with Pfizer, combining its immune system sequencing technology with Pfizer’s cancer drug development. Gritstone recently emerged with a $102 million debut round to fund its cancer vaccine programs. Adaptive also raised a boatload of cash last year, in part to fuel its ambitions to move into drug development.
—San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) and Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim said they agreed to joint R&D efforts in a quest for new drugs that target central nervous system receptors and to strengthen research in schizophrenia and other psychiatric diseases. Arena interim CEO Harry Hixon Jr. said the deal reflects Arena’s “new corporate focus.”
—South San Francisco, CA-based Iconic Therapeutics said it closed on a $40 million Series C financing round, with proceeds going to advance its lead drug for treating eye diseases and to begin clinical trials in ocular melanoma. The round included three new investors, HBM Healthcare Investments, Cormorant Asset Management, and Osage University Partners, and existing investors, including MPM Capital, H.I.G. Capital, and Lundbeckfund Ventures.
—San Diego-based Cidara Therapeutics said it plans to proceed to mid-stage clinical trials of CD101 IV, its new anti-fungal drug candidate for invasive candidiasis and other fungal infections. Data from an early stage trial with multiple doses showed the drug is well-tolerated with no serious or severe adverse events. The company completed a single-dose trial in November.
—Johnson & Johnson and the UC San Diego’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences said they would work together on a discovery program for potential treatments for Chagas’ disease.
—Carlsbad, CA-based Ionis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IONS), which changed its name from Isis Pharmaceuticals just last month, said it has reclaimed rights to its cardiovascular drug mipomersen (Kynamro) from Genzyme. Mipomersen was the company’s lead RNA drug, and the FDA approved the cholesterol-lowering drug in 2013 as the first major RNA therapeutic.
—[Corrected to show Inova is based in Austin, TX] San Diego-based ResMed (NYSE: RMD), which specializes in medical devices for sleep-disordered breathing and respiratory care, said it agreed to acquire Austin, TX-based Inova Labs, a specialist in oxygen therapy products. Financial terms were not disclosed.
—LeafBio, Inc., the commercial arm of San Diego’s Mapp Biopharmaceutical, said it has begun a clinical safety trial of MB66, a rapidly dissolving film that releases anti-viral monoclonal antibodies to the vaginal mucosa. MB66 is intended to block the sexual transmission of genital herpes and HIV. MB66 is LeafBio’s second product to enter clinical trials; ZMapp is currently being evaluated for the treatment of Ebola in the United States and West Africa.