San Diego-Area Business, Life Sciences, and Technology News Briefs


West Coast Biotech Roundup: Lumena/Shire, Isis, Janssen Labs & More

A new wave of buyout fervor included the acquisition of San Diego’s Lumena Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Labs unveiled plans for a new incubator in South San Francisco, and Statos Genomics raised capital in Seattle. Here is the past week’s roundup of news up and down the left coast.

—San Diego’s Lumena Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2011 to develop oral drugs for treating rare liver disorders, agreed to a $260 million-plus buyout offer from Irish drug maker Shire. The deal helps Shire expand its business in gastrointestinal drugs. In addition to paying $260 million in cash upfront, Shire agreed to make an additional payment for the cash on Lumena’s balance sheet when the deal closes, as well as milestone payments as two Lumena drugs advance through clinical trials. The acquisition comes amid a wave of big pharma deal activity.

—Janssen Labs, part of the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) healthcare empire, announced a new 30,000 square foot life sciences incubator in South San Francisco that could house up to 50 companies and potentially double the group’s nationwide capacity. Janssen Labs’ three current sites are in San Diego, San Francisco, and Cambridge.

—Xenoport (NASDAQ: XNPT) of Santa Clara, CA has licensed its alcohol abuse deterrent arbaclofen placarbil to Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals of Richmond, VA, for $20 million upfront and $125 million in potential milestone payments, plus royalties. Reckitt receives exclusive worldwide rights to the drug and plans to move it into a Phase 2b clinical study.

—Shares of Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) surged after the company reported encouraging results in a mid-stage trial of its antisense drug GCGRRx in patients with type 2 diabetes. Isis said patients achieved statistically significant reductions in blood sugar levels, with absolute mean reductions in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) greater than 2 percent at 200 milligrams and 1 percent at 100 milligrams after 13 weeks of treatment.

Stratos Genomics, a Seattle-based developer of low-cost gene sequencing technology, has raised $10 million of a planned $16 million investment round, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company previously raised over $13 million in the seven years since it was founded to advance its proprietary “sequencing-by-expansion” nanopore technology for both targeted and whole-genome sequencing.

—University of California, San Francisco researcher Alex Marson contributed work to a drug discovery program with ambitions to produce a treatment for multiple autoimmune diseases. Still a long way from human testing, the program, as Xconomy reported Monday, is the property of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) via its Cambridge, MA-based subsidiary Tempero Pharmaceuticals.

—Tacoma, WA-based Revalesio has raised $13.5 million of a planned $40 million investment round to advance its technology, which generates charge-stabilized molecules in medical grade saline solution. The company, founded in 2000, says it is advancing the use of its novel product, which does not contain a traditional active pharmaceutical ingredient, for intravenous use in treating inflammatory diseases.

—Human Longevity, the genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic company founded in San Diego by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, named three leaders to its core scientific team. Details are here.

—San Diego-based Owaves, a digital health startup founded a year ago, introduced a calendar app for the iPad that is intended to help guide users to a healthier standard of living. The seed-stage company plans to use wireless health technology to help users adopt new measurements for health and wellness.

Bruce Bigelow and Ben Romano contributed to this roundup.


TwinStrata Snags $5.7M

TwinStrata, a Natick, MA-based provider of cloud data storage for businesses, has pinned down $5.7 million of an equity offering that could hit $8.7 million, an SEC filing shows. The funding came from 27 investors, according to the document, which lists Braden Bohrmann and Rich Levandov of Avalon Ventures as TwinStrata directors. Levandov will be participating in an Xconomy chat this September on cloud and consumer trends in Internet startups and innovation.


Genomatica Signs Up for Italian Job

San Diego’s Genomatica, the industrial biotechnology startup, says it has agreed to establish a joint venture with Novamont, the Italian bio-plastic producer, to develop the first industrial plant in Europe to produce butanediol (BDO) from renewable feedstocks. Novamont plans to use the estimated 40 million pounds per year output to meet the increasing demand for its products. Genomatica will retain an option for a portion of the BDO production.


Envision Solar Names New CEO

San Diego’s Envision Solar says Desmond Wheatley, the firm’s president and chief operating officer, succeeded founding CEO and chairman Bob Noble on Aug. 10. Noble has moved to a new role as executive chairman. The company also named a new CFO, Chris Caulson.

Zogenix Pain Drug Meets Endpoint

San Diego-based Zogenix says its late-stage efficacy study of hydrocodone bitartrate (Zohydro) met the company’s intended goal, with patients reporting improved chronic pain relief compared to a placebo. The study also demonstrated that the drug candidate was safe and well-tolerated. If federal drug regulators approve the drug for the U.S. market, Zogenix says it could be the first extended-release hydrocodone treatment available without acetaminophen, which has been linked to an increased risk of liver damage when used in high doses over time. Zogenix has been developing a series of drugs, each paired with its needle-free injector system, and plans to seek regulatory approval for each drug-and-device combo.


SmartDrive Raises $10.1M

San Diego’s SmartDrive Systems has raised $10.1 million of a planned $11.5 million from investors, according to a recent regulatory filing. As we reported a couple of years ago, SmartDrive helps fleet operators mitigate their risk by using a SmartRecorder device mounted above the dashboard to record driving behavior and determine what happened in accidents. Jason Palmer, who joined the company in 2009 as chief product officer, is now CEO. No investors were identified in the filing, but past investors include Oak Investment Partners of Palo Alto, CA, and New Enterprise Associates of Menlo Park, CA.


Bydureon FDA Deadline Set

San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) said today that the FDA has set a deadline of Jan. 28 to complete its review of the newly updated application for exenatide once-weekly (Bydureon). The companies are seeking FDA clearance to start marketing the new product as the first once-weekly injectable medicine for diabetes patients in the U.S. The drug was approved in the European Union in June.


SG Biofuels Plans Jatropha Initiative in India

SG Biofuels, an Encinitas, CA-based startup developing biofuels says it has formed an alliance with Bharat Renewable Energy to produce hybrid varieties of Jatropha that can be grown in India and used to produce biodiesel. SG Biofuels says it is optimizing crop species by using environmentally friendly biotechnology to develop elite hybrids of crops with desired traits—not to be confused with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  SG Biofuels and Bharat Renewable Energy, a joint venture of India’s second-largest petroleum company, will work to develop the most commercially viable hybrid varieties and plan to plant more than 86,000 acres of Jatropha.

ViaCyte Names CTO Robins as Acting CEO

ViaCyte, a San Diego preclinical cell therapy company focused on diabetes, says today the company’s chief technology officer, Allan Robins, has been named acting CEO following the departure of chief executive John West, who resigned for personal reasons. The company, which is partly funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, also promoted Kevin D’Amour to chief scientific officer. The company says West will continue with the company as a consultant and board member. Meanwhile, ViaCyte’s board has begun the search for a new CEO.


Gilead Buys Genentech Biologics Plant

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, has agreed to purchase a clinical biologics manufacturing facility from Genentech in Oceanside, CA, about 36 miles north of San Diego, according to a statement today. The company says it plans to offer jobs to 55 Genentech employees now working at the 70,000 square-foot plant, which Genentech calls its Oceanside Clinical Plant. Terms of the deal, which includes certain plant assets, were not disclosed. Most of the drug candidates Gilead has under development are targeting hepatitis C, HIV, cancer, cardiovascular, and respiratory disorders.

Actus Medical Raises $1M

San Diego’s Actus Medical, which was founded earlier this year with technology for improved mapping of heart arrhythmias, has raised $1 million in initial funding from private investors and Index Ventures, which has offices in Geneva, London, and Jersey. In a statement, Index Ventures says the technology provides cardiologists with instantaneous and precise visualization of areas to be ablated in with atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, and other arrhythmias.

ParAccel Round Was $10M

Last month we reported that Campbell, CA- and San Diego-based high-performance database maker ParAccel had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Amazon, Menlo Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Bay Partners, Walden International, Tao Venture Capital Partners, and Silicon Valley Bank. An August 4 regulatory filing now shows that the amount of ParAccel’s recent financing was $10 million. Founded by Netezza alum Barry Zane, the company makes relational database software that combine aspects of data warehousing and analytics processing


FDA OKs Changes in Santarus Heart Study

The FDA has agreed to protocol changes in a late stage clinical trial of a new heart drug being developed by San Diego-based Santarus (NASDAQ: SNTS) and the Netherlands-based Pharming Group under a special protocol assessment (SPA). The FDA sought modifications to the study of a recombinant human C1 inhibitor (Rhucin) as a treatment for Hereditary Angioedema, a disorder that can trigger acute swelling of the limbs, face, windpipe, and intestinal tract. Under an SPA, the FDA provides early guidance on study protocols, smoothing the way to a new drug application.

$6M Sweet Music for TakeLessons

After taking $20,000 as the winner of the San Diego Venture Group’s Pitchfest Biz Plan Competition in December, San Diego-based TakeLessons said it has raised $6 million in venture funding led by San Francisco-based Crosslink Capital. SoftTech VC of Palo Alto, CA, and angel investors joined in the early stage round. Founded in 2006 by musician and former executive Steven Cox, TakeLessons operates a Web platform that connects people to certified music instructors in more than 2,800 U.S. cities. The company also formed a partnership with electronics retailer Best Buy to provide in-store music lessons.


SD’s iHub Expanded to Riverside

A state initiative intended to facilitate technology commercialization by designating regional iHubs (or innovation hubs) has expanded San Diego’s iHub to include much of Southwest Riverside County. The California Governor’s Office of Economic Development established the San Diego iHub last year, enabling a local consortium to apply for federal economic stimulus funding in three focus areas: mobile health, biofuels, and solar energy and energy storage. Expanding San Diego’s iHub designation will expand the consortium and add the field of biomimicry as an additional focus area. San Diego and Riverside already have joined forces to collaborate on a grant application for the i6 Challenge, a $12 million federal competition intended to stimulate green technology development, new venture formation, jobs, and economic growth.


Malama Raising Series A Funding

San Diego-based Malama Composites, a cleantech startup that uses green materials to make structural foam, has raised almost $696,000 of equity funding in a round that is targeting almost $1.2 million, according to a recent regulatory filing. Malama CEO David Saltman says it represents about half of a $1.5 million Series A round the company hopes to close in coming weeks. Malama co-founder Ned McMahon described the startup’s origins for Xconomy in 2009, but Saltman says the startup has shifted its focus from surfboards and is now selling other foam products to a variety of customers.


Fallbrook Names President

San Diego’s Fallbrook Technologies, which has been developing a continuously variable transmission, today named Al Kammerer as president, a newly created position. Kammerer, who spent 34 years with the Ford Motor Co., will report to William G. Klehm, Fallbrook’s chairman and CEO. Kammerer, who has been a Fallbrook board member since 2009, will oversee the company’s product divisions.


Bydureon Sent Back to FDA

San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) said today that they have re-submitted an application to the FDA, for clearance to start marketing exenatide once-weekly (Bydureon) as a new treatment for diabetes in the U.S. The agency turned down an earlier application, asking the companies to produce more data showing the drug doesn’t have an effect on abnormal heart rhythms known as the QT interval. The new application includes such a study, which the companies reported on earlier this month. The FDA will likely have six months to complete its review of the application, the companies said. If approved, analysts expect the drug could generate billions in annual U.S. sales.


Illumina Sales Climb 36%, Profits Flat

San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), the market-leading maker of gene sequencing instruments, said today that its sales climbed 36 percent, to $287.5 million, in the quarter that ended June 30. The company turned a profit of $30.6 million in the quarter, a 2.7 percent increase compared with the $29.8 million profit in the same period a year earlier. Spending on R&D climbed by 16 percent, and sales, general and administrative costs rose by 30 percent to $69.2 million, the company said.


ViaSat-1 Launch Delayed

Carlsbad, CA-based ViaSat is delaying its revised launch of the ViaSat-1 satellite by a few weeks, until August or September, according to the website Satellite Today. ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg confirmed to the online news provider that Space Systems/Loral discovered a malfunction in a solar panel aboard a previous satellite, the Telstar 14R, which prompted the satellite maker to conduct a failure review analysis of ViaSat-1. The Ka-band satellite, which is designed to provide high-speed Internet service, was set for launch this month. It was initially scheduled for launch in May.

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