Ligand Inks Deal, Ionis Details Succession Plan, & More SD Biotech

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s life sciences companies didn’t tap their brakes much as December chugged along. This week—for many, the last full work week before a holiday break—has been peppered with financings and deals news. So while it might be nearly time to board your plane (or hop in the car, or simply spend a little time away from your screens), first catch up on recent local biotech happenings. Then, enjoy what remains of 2018.

—Ionis Pharmaceuticals said Thursday that the company’s founder and CEO Stan Crooke plans to leave his current role and transition to executive chairman of Ionis’ board of directors in January of 2020. Brett Monia, also a member of the Ionis (NASDAQ: IONS) founding team, will become CEO, the company said. Monia became Ionis’s chief operating officer in January. Previously, he was the company’s head of drug discovery. Ionis develops RNA drugs for a variety of neurological disorders with few treatment options available. Its drug for spinal muscular atrophy, nusinersen (Spinraza), was the first treatment approved for the disease.

—Ligand Pharmaceuticals said Monday it had acquired the rights to Palvella Therapeutics’s experimental topical treatment for pachyonychia congenita, a rare skin disorder. San Diego’s Ligand (NASDAQ: LGND) agreed to pay $10 million to Palvella, a biopharmaceutical company based in Wayne, PA, in exchange for tiered royalties in the mid-to-upper single digits on net sales, plus regulatory and financing milestones. The drug candidate, PTX-022, is in Phase 2/3 development. Ligand CEO John Higgins said if the Palvella drug’s development is successful and it is approved by the FDA, the treatment could launch commercially in 2022.

Ligand won’t be doing the development and commercialization work itself: The company generates revenue by licensing its drug development platforms and making royalty deals with other companies. Separately, on Tuesday, Ligand said it expects its revenue in 2019 to be at least $212 million, two-thirds from royalty revenue and the remainder from contract payments and material sales. Ligand said it has the potential to tack on up to $40 million more from potential milestone and license payments.

—Gossamer Bio, which launched in January, said Monday it hired Jakob Dupont as its chief medical officer. Dupont was most recently vice president and global head of breast and gynecologic cancer development at South San Francisco, CA-based Genentech, a subsidiary of Swiss healthcare giant Roche. Previously, he was CMO and senior vice president at Redwood City, CA-based OncoMed Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OMED). Sheila Gujrathi, co-founder and CEO of the San Diego company, said Dupont’s clinical development and regulatory expertise will help Gossamer advance its clinical and preclinical drug candidates.

In September, Gossamer hired another big pharma vet, Luisa Salter-Cid, from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), as its chief scientific officer. In July, Gossamer said it had raised a $230 million in a Series B round of financing led by Chinese private equity firm Hillhouse Capital. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority; Invus; the Boston, MA-based hedge fund Baupost Group; and venture capital firm Polaris Partners were among the new investors that participated. So did Gossamer’s existing investors, Arch Venture Partners and Omega Funds. Arch and Omega led the company’s $100 million Series A, announced when the company started nearly one year ago. Gossamer was started by Receptos’ former executive leadership team, Gujrathi and Faheem Hasnain. Receptos was acquired in 2015 by Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) for about $7 billion.

—One of San Diego’s newest startup accelerators, Ad Astra, has graduated its first cohort of life sciences companies. Acceptance into the 12-week program came with a $20,000 investment in each company from Ad Astra’s founders, Vidya Dinamani, Allison Long Pettine, and Silvia Mah. Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”), which launched this year, focuses on women-led companies. The life science group was its second ever cohort. On Dec. 6 Ad Astra recognized the three startups that recently completed its curriculum of one-on-one sessions with mentors, connecting with advisors, and practice investor pitches. More than 150 people turned out to hear the companies’ business pitches at an event at the AMN Healthcare auditorium.

Here are the companies that graduated:

Hydrostasis, headed by Debbie Chen, is developing a product for athletes to monitor their level of hydration levels.

Vivid Genomics, headed by Julie Collens, is developing noninvasive tools to identify top candidates for clinical trials of investigational treatments for neurodegenerative disease.

Cooler Heads, headed by Kate Dilligan, is designing products to address the needs of cancer patients, including a cooling cap intended to reduce hair loss.