San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: SGI-DNA, ZeaKal, DelMar Pharma & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Fall is finally arriving, as indicated by the recent shortened work week, and few may object given the unseasonably hot, muggy weather San Diego has been experiencing recently. Track down somewhere with AC, then catch up on recent developments in the local life sciences scene.

—SGI-DNA, a recent spinout of Synthetic Genomics (SGI), has raised a $25 million Series A financing round led by Northpond Ventures. Oxford Finance and BroadOak Capital Partners also participated. The La Jolla, CA, company, which was founded as an SGI subsidiary in 2014 but was formally spun out about six months ago, is headed by CEO Todd Nelson.

The funds will be used for a global launch of its BioXp System, an automated gene synthesis platform, as well as further product development related to DNA synthesis and DNA data storage, the company said.

—Plant science company ZeaKal said it closed a $15 million Series C financing round to advance its PhotoSeed technology, which increases crop yield by increasing a plant’s capacity for photosynthesis.

The round includes a $10 million “strategic investment” by Toronto cannabis investor Canopy Rivers that was announced earlier this year. Earlier investors Finistere Ventures and Middleland Capital also participated. ZeaKal is headed by CEO Han Chen, who was previously investment manager at Finistere.

—DelMar Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: DMPI), a company developing precision therapies for cancer, has relocated its headquarters to San Diego from Vancouver, British Columbia. The biotech also has offices in Menlo Park, CA. Its lead drug candidate, dianhydrogalactitol (VAL-083), is in Phase 2 testing as a treatment for a subset of patients with glioblastoma tumors, which occur in the brain or spinal cord.

CEO Saiid Zarrabian is based in San Diego; the company plans to expand in the area after its Phase 2 studies are complete, drawing from the biotech expertise in the region, according to an outside spokesman.

DelMar is named after the coastal North San Diego County city where the company’s co-founder, Jeff Bacha, once lived. Bacha, who left the company in January 2018, started the biotech with Dennis Brown, its chief scientific officer.

—The San Diego Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) at UC San Diego has been awarded grants totaling $1.2 million by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The money will support HIV-related research projects, including four led by UCSD School of Medicine researchers as part of the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, which is intended reduce new HIV infections in the United States by 90 percent by 2030.

The center, one of 17 across the country, plans to work with local health departments and community clinics in Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties, and to form a scientific working group to address the needs of Southern California, which has been identified as a hot spot for new HIV diagnoses, according to CFAR.

“The grants will not be enough, but it will help us move in the right direction,” said Davey Smith, co-director of San Diego CFAR, in a news release. Read about the projects here.

—Vical stockholders late last month OK’d a reverse merger with Brickell Biotech (NASDAQ: BBI). Vical, a San Diego company that was developing treatments for life-threatening infectious diseases, including antiviral and antifungal compounds, announced in June that it planned to become part of Brickell, a privately held biotech in Boulder, CO, developing drugs for skin diseases. The combined company is based in Boulder.

—Garret Hampton, the head of clinical genomics at Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), is leaving the company early next year, about two years after joining the DNA sequencing giant. At the time, Illumina CEO Francis deSouza said bringing aboard “one of the world’s top clinical genomics experts” was a “strategically important hire” for the company. Hampton joined from Roche’s Genentech, where he held a number of leadership positions.

In an Aug. 29 regulatory filing, Illumina reported Hampton had told the company he would leave Jan. 10 “in connection with an organizational restructuring.” No further details were provided.