Genentech’s Souped-Up Antibody, Reg Kelly’s Mission, LS9 Nears Moment of Truth & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Francisco — 

We know the news and features move fast on our site, and it can be hard to keep up with everything we write every day. So here’s a weekly roundup to help you catch up. This one is especially big, since we started publishing Xconomy San Francisco on June 14 and I’m actually summing up our first two weeks of life sciences coverage.

Genentech, the South San Francisco-based unit of Roche, has endured some riveting plot twists over the past decade as it has sought to develop the first “empowered antibody” with a real chance at success in the marketplace. This was the behind-the-scenes story on the development of T-DM1, a more potent version of trastuzumab (Herceptin) that has now shown promising results in clinical trials.

—Plenty of ink has been spilled about the renaissance of research and entrepreneurial activity in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, so I sought a different angle, from one of the key people making this stuff happen. This turned into a fascinating life story of QB3 director Reg Kelly, a Scotsman who grew up poor, and has had to “hustle” his whole life, he says.

—Under the heading of biotech-meets-cleantech, I did a deep-dive on South San Francisco-based LS9. This company has some big names and big money aligned behind a big idea of creating renewable petroleum. A major test of this concept will occur this year as LS9 seeks to prove it can make oil at industrial scale, and at competitive prices. A few days after this story, the scientific team picked up a kudo with the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

—I visited one of the hotbeds of medical device innovation in the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago, during a graduation reception for fellows from Stanford’s Biodesign program. The program, co-founded by Paul Yock and Josh Makower, grades itself not just on how many academic papers its produces, but on how many patients are treated with inventions from its students.

—We saw a trio of financings at medical device companies earlier this week and wrapped them up in one short piece. The new cash is going into Voyage Medical, Incline Therapeutics, and Baxano.

Ablexis, a San Francisco-based startup with a new technology for generating antibody drug candidates, talked about its new strategy and transformation from what used to be called Aliva Biopharmaceuticals. The company recently got $12 million in financing from Third Rock Ventures and Pfizer Venture Investments.

—You can’t cover biotech without paying attention to stem cells, so I sat down for an in-depth profile of one of the Bay Area’s leading startups in that field, iPierian. This company, led by Corey Goodman as chairman and John Walker as CEO, has connected with some of the heavyweight researchers at Harvard to develop technology that it says should make drug discovery more efficient. Harvard researcher George Daley chimed in with a comment at the bottom.

—Two pieces of bad news hit a couple small-cap biotech companies in the Bay Area on Monday morning. Palo Alto, CA-based Affymax (NASDAQ: AFFY) saw its stock plummet after it said pivotal clinical trials revealed that its drug wasn’t inferior to competing products, but researchers did see a higher rate of cardiac side effects among people who got the new drug. The same morning, South San Francisco-based Exelixis (NASDAQ: EXEL) said its partner, Bristol-Myers Squibb, bailed out of a partnership to co-develop a cancer drug called XL184.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), the Foster City, CA-based maker of HIV drugs, said its new inhalable antibiotic for cystic fibrosis outperformed a rival drug from Novartis in a head-to-head study. This is a story I’ve followed for some time—Gilead got the drug through its acquisition of Seattle-based Corus Pharma, a company I covered for a number of years in Seattle.

—We love to look for cross-pollination among cities in our network of innovation hubs, and one interesting case hit our radar last week. That was when San Diego-based Gen-Probe (NASDAQ: GPRO), a big maker of diagnostics, said it invested $50 million in Mountain View, CA-based Pacific Biosciences to develop its powerful new gene sequencing machines for diagnostics.

—We touched on a couple of deals briefly, and made a note to watch these companies over time. San Francisco-based FerroKin Biosciences secured a $12 million financing to help development treatments against iron overload, while Redwood City, CA-based OncoMed Pharmaceuticals pocketed a $40 million upfront payment from Bayer to help develop drugs that target cancer stem cells.

—We actively seek to get members of the local innovation community to write guest editorials to add something a little extra to our mix of daily news and features. These past couple weeks we’ve been running these op-ed pieces from a variety of people in and outside the Bay Area. A few prominent local innovators in life sciences joined the mix, including Venrock’s Bryan Roberts, BayBio’s Gail Maderis, and UCSF’s Susan Desmond-Hellmann. If you’ve got an issue you’d like to write about, or a story tip, please shoot me a note at [email protected] Thanks for reading.