West Coast Bio Roundup: Gilead, Affymetrix, Acutus, Frazier & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Gilead Sciences is back at the top of our chart for the second week in a row. After halting trials last week in the United States and Europe over its cancer drug idelalisib, a federal jury in San Jose, CA, upheld the validity of two Merck patents this week in a case that could force Gilead to turn over billions. We also have news out of Seattle on a new $100 million funding initiative dedicated to “out of the box” bioscience R&D, more on the bidding war for Affymetrix, and funding news from up and down the coast.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, lost a patent case to Merck (NYSE: MRK) over their competing hepatitis C drugs. A jury upheld Merck’s claim that sofosbuvir, the main ingredient in Gilead’s blockbuster Sovaldi and part of its combination drug Harvoni—violated two Merck patents. The jury awarded Merck $200 million in damages, far less than the $2 billion it had been seeking. Gilead said it would appeal.

—Microsoft cofounder and Seattle billionaire Paul Allen unveiled a new funding initiative, the Paul Allen Frontiers Group, that will give $100 million to researchers for what Allen called “out of the box” exploration of bioscience. One of the first $1.5 million individual awards went to UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna, for work that uses CRISPR-Cas9 and other techniques to target and alter both DNA and RNA. Xconomy this week detailed some of that work, in collaboration with researchers at UC San Diego. The other $1.5 million awardees were Ethan Bier of UC San Diego, Jim Collins of MIT, and Bassem Hassan of the French Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière. Allen’s new group will also fund research teams. The first two will be based at Stanford University and Tufts University.

—Bay Area biotech legend Affymetrix (NASDAQ: AFFX), the first company to make genomic assays on a chip, has a buyout bid in hand from lab equipment giant Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE: TMO). But a higher bid from a group of former Affymetrix executives calling themselves Origin Technologies forced the board to postpone a shareholder meeting Wednesday. And according to GenomeWeb, the Affymetrix board said Thursday it would talk to Origin about its $17-per-share offer but officially still favors the Thermo bid, at $14 a share. Shareholders are now slated to vote March 31. Affymetrix shares were trading down half a percentage point at $15.03 midday Thursday.

—People who have signed up with Mountain View, CA-based 23andMe to decode their genomes will eventually be able to use their iPhones to share their DNA and other health data with researchers, thanks to a tie-up between 23andMe and Apple. Apple launched software last year called ResearchKit that allows researchers to customize a study as an iPhone app and collect volunteers’ data. As MIT Technology Review reported, there are at least 20 ResearchKit studies ongoing. Two studies, one on heart health, one on asthma, have said they would accept genetic data.

—Frazier Healthcare Partners, with offices in Seattle and Menlo Park, CA, said it has closed a $525 million fund to invest in profitable healthcare companies. The Frazier Growth Buyout Fund VIII, run from Frazier’s traditional Seattle headquarters, is separate from the … Next Page »

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