iPierian Entices Corporate VCs, Plexxikon’s One-Two Punch, Jennerex’s Road Less Traveled, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

We had news from the world of cancer drugs, genomics, stem cells, and an interesting little piece on a strategy for potentially preventing chronic fatigue syndrome. Get caught up here.

—Emeryville, CA-based Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX) said it has struck a partnership with Japan-based Ono Pharmaceuticals. The deal provides about $59 million in upfront cash to Onyx and another potential $280 million in milestone payments, while Ono gets the right to market Onyx’s experimental myeloma drugs in Japan.

iPierian, the South San Francisco company trying to use induced pluripotent stem cells as a tool for drug discovery, has been pushing hard to get the validation that comes from signing a Big Pharma partnership. That sort of deal hasn’t materialized yet, but iPierian said this week that GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One venture arm, and Biogen Idec New Ventures, have chosen to invest in the company’s $28 million Series B venture round, after in-house scientists at the companies vetted the iPierian approach.

—San Francisco-based Jennerex hasn’t yet found any of the big names from Big Pharma who are willing to stick their necks out yet for its programs, which seek to treat cancer with genetically engineered viruses. But Jennerex did secure a partnership with France-based Transgene, potentially worth $116 million over time, and CEO David Kirn talked in more depth about how this fits into his company’s strategy to become one of the pioneers in a new field of cancer treatment.

—It seems like everybody is suing everybody else in the world of high-speed, low-cost gene sequencing instruments, and this week we saw another patent lawsuit cross the wires. This time, Cambridge, MA-based Helicos Biosciences (NASDAQ: HLCS) is accusing Menlo Park, CA-based Pacific Biosciences of infringing on its patents that cover single molecule sequencing.

Plexxikon, the Berkeley, CA-based developer of an experimental melanoma treatment, made big news last month when its lead drug candidate showed a surprising 80 percent-plus response rate in a small study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The company’s encore came this week, when it landed another publication in Nature which showed that high doses of the drug were more effective at blocking the desired target and were correlated with better rates of tumor shrinkage.

Cerus (NASDAQ: CERS), the Concord, CA-based developer of technology to kill viruses in blood, talked to me about new evidence that shows its technology is effective at getting rid of a virus that is becoming increasingly suspect as a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. Cerus technology is already approved for sale in Europe to blood centers seeking to keep their supplies safe. But Cerus is hoping that public health officials and regulators will recognize the growing threat of the emerging pathogen, XMRV, which could potentially boost sales for its product.

—We also had a couple of guest op-eds of interest to biotech readers. Reg Kelly, the director of QB3, wrote one short post about how it’s time for university administration to get more nimble in order to encourage more innovation and application of basic science. The other post, from Lisa Suennen of Psilos Group, talked about a number of old ideas in healthcare that are making a comeback.

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