The Mission Bay Biotech Cluster: Antibodies, RNAi, Biofuels, & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

[Update: 11:30 am, 7/8/10] Much has been written about the transformation of San Francisco’s Mission Bay district from run-down railroad property into a biotech hotbed. An estimated 56 biotech companies were said to be operating in San Francisco as of last month, compared to just one back in 2004, according to this report from Tom Abate at the Chronicle. It’s made me wonder, who are the entrepreneurs and large companies that have planted their flag in Mission Bay, and what are they doing?

I hope to learn more about this myself at an open house and panel discussion today being organized by the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and BayBio.

You can bet some of the speakers tonight—a distinguished group that includes Brook Byers and Susan Desmond-Hellmann—will be tossing around factoids about how many companies have been created, and how many people are working there. What I’ve sought to pull together here is a directory of startups, small-to-mid-sized biotechs, and Big Pharma branches that have all clustered in the Mission Bay district. I’ve sought to keep this group limited to companies that are currently operating in Mission Bay, and for whom I was able to get some information from either my own reporting or some quick Web searching yesterday.

I realize it will fast be out of date, and I may have missed a few names. Thanks to Kristen Bole at UCSF, and the folks at QB3, including Doug Crawford and Kaspar Mossman, for their help in assembling the list. Thanks also to Travis Blaschek-Miller and Gail Maderis of BayBio, who offered up a database of 60 member companies from San Francisco that I didn’t quite have time to comb through for today’s deadline. I’ll be sure to update this space when I have a moment. If you have any questions, comments, or new information, please send me a note at [email protected] or [email protected]

100x Imaging. This company says it is working on “custom software solutions for life science automated imaging.” On its LinkedIn profile, the company adds that it supports and develops open source software, and that it aspires to lower the costs and increase the reliability of automated imaging.

Ablexis. The company formerly known as Aliva Biotherapeutics raised $12 million earlier this month from Third Rock Ventures and Pfizer Venture Investment. The company is developing genetically modified mice that produce a wide array of fully-human antibody drug candidates against specific markers of disease.

Allopartis. This company is developing enhanced enzymes that seek to break down cellulosic biomass into sugars for biofuels and industrial chemicals. The company is supported by the California Clean Energy Angel Fund.

Aperys. The company is developing technology to help researchers perform certain experiments in cell culture.

Bayer. The German pharmaceutical giant said last month that it is moving 65 researchers into a building that had been vacated by Pfizer. Bayer officials, quoted by the Chronicle, said they were eager to relocate their facility from Richmond, CA, to be close to the academic and startup energy at Mission Bay.

Carmot Therapeutics. Carmot received its Series A venture financing in April from The Column Group to further develop its technology for identifying promising drug candidates through what it calls “Chemotype Evolution.”

Celgene. The giant maker of drugs for blood cancers (NASDAQ: CELG) inherited a facility at 1700 Owens Street when it acquired Pharmion for $2.9 billion in 2008. It has decided to stay put, according to this story from the San Francisco Business Times.

CV Ingenuity. CV’s website is “under construction.”

Delpor. This company is developing new ways of delivering existing drugs for chronic diseases. The company, according to its website, is seeking to enable sustained release of proteins, peptides, or small molecule chemicals through a non-mechanical implant.

FibroGen. This company, which has been operating since 1995, has space at 409 Illinois Street that is currently being subleased to a number of startups. FibroGen is seeking to develop drugs that stop fibrosis, or pathological scarring of tissues. The company also has a South San Francisco location.

Five Prime Therapeutics. This company, backed by the likes of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, is using a proprietary technology to identify new protein drug candidates.

Gemmus Pharma. Gemmus, according to its website, is developing oral pills that stimulate the body’s immune system to fight off influenza and other infectious diseases, in different ways than conventional antivirals or vaccines.

GigaGen. I didn’t find a website for this company, although its founder and CEO is David Johnson, a former project director at Stanford’s Human Genome Center. GigaGen’s mission is to bring next-generation sequencing into clinical practice, according to a biography page Johnson listed for an event at Stanford this spring.

Green Pacific Biologicals. This is an algae biofuel company operating in stealth mode. The best thing I could find in a quick Web search was this presentation on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory website, which says Green Pacific is seeking to offer a higher conversion rate of algae into fuel that should provide a 50 to 80 percent reduction in costs.

Lypro Biosciences. This company, based on a thumbnail description on, has what it calls “lipid-based targetable, self-assembling, Nanodisks” which are supposed to help improve the side effect profile of drugs that aren’t soluble in water.

Merck. The pharmaceutical giant has its RNA Therapeutics unit based in Mission Bay, led by Alan Sachs, a former professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. This RNA R&D center is based on Merck’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Sirna Therapeutics in 2006. I did an extensive interview with Sachs back in January, where he noted that Merck has about 60,000 square feet of office space and is fully staffed, although he wouldn’t disclose how many employees Merck has in Mission Bay.

Metafold Therapeutics. This company, according to a blurb on QB3’s website, is developing “breakthrough medicines to improve beta-cell function and longevity,” as a way to treat Type 2 diabetes.

MLC Dx. Malek Faham, who co-founded ParAllele Biosciences, is the chief scientific officer of this new molecular diagnostics company, according to this posting on the International Conference on Systems Biology website from last summer.

Nektar Therapeutics. This public company (NASDAQ: NKTR), which has a market capitalization of $1.1 billion, is moving its headquarters from San Carlos to become neighbors with Bayer in the same Mission Bay facility being vacated by Pfizer. CEO Howard Robin hit gold in SF with his last company, Sirna Therapeutics, so he’s no stranger to The City.

Omniox. This company, based on work by UC Berkeley chemist Michael Marletta, is developing a protein that binds to oxygen to help improve transport throughout the body, according to this article on UCSF’s site about a year ago.

Osprey Pharmaceuticals. Osprey is developing protein drugs for inflammatory and immune system disorders. The company, according to its website, raised $11 million in its initial venture round in May 2008.

PharmaJet. This company seeks to deliver vaccines drugs through the skin without needles. PharmaJet says it has an office in San Francisco, although its main office has been in Golden, CO, since March 1.

Photoswitch Biosciences. Photoswitch has a bare bones website, which just says it is working on “light-activated ion channels.” A profile on the QB3 webpage for Photoswitch Therapeutics says it is developing small-molecule compounds that act like photoswitches that restore light sensitivity to the retina, for people with retinal degenerative diseases like age-related macular degeneration.

Presidio Pharmaceuticals. Presidio says it has raised more than $54 million in venture capital to develop small-molecule antiviral meds. The company is currently focused on hepatitis C and HIV, according to its website.

SeaChange Pharmaceuticals. This company uses computational techniques to identify new uses for existing drugs, known in the trade as “repurposing.” SeaChange is seeking to apply this idea to rare diseases that are underserved markets.

Siluria Technologies. Siluria, which was recently profiled in the New York Times, is working on a virus to convert natural gas into ethylene, which it says is the world’s most common chemical intermediate, which goes into a variety of consumer and industrial products. [Updated: 11:30 am, 7/7/10]

Solidus Biosciences. Solidus says it is developing a test which biotech and pharmaceutical customers can use to separate the winners from the losers early in the drug development process, by predicting which candidates will be too toxic in humans.

Tunitas Therapeutics. Tunitas moved to San Francisco’s Mission Bay district in April, according to the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The company is developing targeted protein drugs for allergies, according to its website.

Vaxart. This company is developing vaccines that it hopes will be taken as oral pills, or chewable tablets. Vaxart, according to its website, is testing an avian flu vaccine in animals and is working toward beginning a clinical trial in 2010. [Updated: 3:25 pm, 6/29/10]

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9 responses to “The Mission Bay Biotech Cluster: Antibodies, RNAi, Biofuels, & More”

  1. Watson'n'Crick says:

    Will you PLEASE get rid of that image of ‘DNA’ ? You use over and over again and I feel embarrassed for you every time.

    Not only is it left handed but it appears to have around 30 base pairs per turn of the helix… enough already!

  2. WC- The image was meant only to provide a little abstract eye candy, but point taken. Hope the new image is more to your liking.

  3. Saumitra says:

    Would you also include Vaxart Inc, Vaccine developer.. who have office on Townsend Street. Thank you

  4. Saumitra—I’ve added Vaxart, thanks. –Luke

  5. Crick'n'Watson says:

    Siluria Technologies, located in the Fibrogen building in Mission Bay, recently had an full article in the NYTimes.

  6. Crick—Just added Siluria to the list, thanks for the reminder.