San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Evofem, Cullgen, BrainLeap & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Locally based biotech companies receive fresh funding from investors. A software startup launches games that it says may help children with disorders that cause attention difficulties. Get the details on these developments and more in San Diego life sciences news:

—Evofem Biosciences (NASDAQ: EVFM) struck a deal to raise up to $80 million in a private placement. The company closed the first $30 million, from Nevada-based investment firm PDL BioPharma (NASDAQ: PDLI), on Wednesday, with the firm paying a 26.4 percent premium, or about $1 more per share than the previous day’s closing price, for about 6.6 million shares. Under the deal terms PDL also can invest up to $30 million more, and Evofem investors Woodford Investment Management and Invesco Asset Management can each invest up to $10 million.

Evofem said the capital would help finance the launch of its first drug, Amphora, an experimental contraceptive gel without hormones. The biotech plans to file for FDA approval in the second half of 2019, and if it gets the green light, a 2020 drug launch. Evofem is also testing the gel as a measure to prevent women from contracting chlamydia and gonorrhea, sexually transmitted infections. Data from a Phase 2b trial are anticipated later this year.

—Biotech company Cullgen said this week said it had raised a $16 Million Series A financing round to advance its pipeline of targeted protein degraders, which it is testing as treatments for cancer, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases. The China affiliate of Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, and Shanghai-based HighLight Capital led the round. Sequoia gets a board seat in the deal. Since Cullgen’s founding in early 2018, it has identified several pre-clinical assets, assembled a board of scientific advisors, put in place a senior management team, and established a laboratory facility with more than 40 employees, according to Ying Luo, its chairman and president.

—BrainLeap Technologies, a La Jolla, CA-based software startup developing attention training games for people with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), this week launched Attention Arcade, a suite of six games intended to improve attention skills and reduce distractibility by having players control aspects of the activities with their gaze, rather than a mouse or keyboard. Designed for use in homes and schools, the Attention Arcade games (one of which, called Space Race, is pictured) are meant for children age 7 to 14.

“While many children with autism and ADHD receive pharmaceuticals to mitigate some of their attention challenges, medication has a limited impact because it does not teach children how to focus,” Jeff Coleman, CEO of BrainLeap, said in a prepared statement. “The Attention Arcade is a type of exercise for the brain that helps kids understand how to focus and develop the underlying skills to do it, whether they continue to use medication or not.”

—Cardea Bio, which makes biosensors using graphene, raised $7.8 million from outside investors in late March. It described the round, led by Alexandria Venture Investments, as a Series A-1 financing. The lead investor in its Series A, Serra Ventures, also participated. Alexandria’s Jonathan Kabakoff joined the Cardea board of directors as part of the deal.

The company says its “biology-enabled transistor technology” is the first of its kind to be produced commercially. Cardea said it will use the money to hire more people and to ink more partnerships through its Innovation Partnership Program, which facilitates development and commercialization of applications for its technology. Cardea says pharmaceutical companies have used its biosensor platform, sold as Nanomed, to evaluate early-stage therapeutic candidates.