LS9 Reveals Key Biofuel Genes, Onyx Drug Passes Big Trial, Solazyme Seeks First-Mover Edge, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

This week we had reports from a couple of the leading biofuel companies in the Bay Area, along with a noteworthy advance from a cancer drug developer.

LS9, the South San Francisco-based biofuel company, reported in this week’s edition of Science magazine how it discovered genes in cyanobacteria that it hopes will pave the way to its goal of $50 per barrel oil from renewable sources. The company described how these genes, when inserted into E. coli bacteria, can convert sugars into alkanes (a key component of fuel) in a one-step biological process.

—I talked with Jonathan Wolfson, the CEO of another one of aspiring biofuel players in South San Francisco, Solazyme, in an in-depth profile. This conversation covered a lot of ground about how the company got started, switched gears early on, and now is seeking to gain the first-mover advantage by producing greater quantities of renewable fuel than its peers.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), the world’s largest maker of HIV drugs, said this week it is borrowing $2.2 billion, and planning to use much of that money to buy back shares of stock. Shares of Gilead traded today a little over $33, a long shot from its 52-week high of $50.

—Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals reported results from a mid-stage study of 266 very sick patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. The Onyx drug appeared to at least partially shrink tumors for one-fourth of these patients, who had relapsed after multiple prior rounds of treatment. The company (NASDAQ: ONXX) said the results are promising enough that it plans to seek FDA approval before the end of the year.

—We also had a couple of solid guest editorials from authors outside of San Francisco who wrote about issues of great interest to the local biotech community. Steve Speer, a biotech consultant in Carlsbad, CA, discussed why corporate frugality isn’t always the best way to conserve cash. And Daniel MacArthur, an ace genomics blogger and researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K., talked about how direct-to-consumer genetics companies like 23andMe and Navigenics got beat up pretty good at a congressional hearing last week, and how this could have some damaging consequences for this fledgling industry.

If you have any issue you’d like to write about for the San Francisco, or national biotech communities, please send me a note at [email protected] or reach out to Xconomy San Francisco editor Wade Roush at [email protected]

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