Onyx Takes a Swing at Myeloma, PacBio Hits Haitian Cholera Genome, Sequenta Nabs $13M, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Super-fast, super-cheap gene sequencing is changing the way biomedical research gets done, and we saw some very interesting manifestations of that trend on the Bay Area biotech beat this week.

Pacific Biosciences (NASDAQ: PACB), the Menlo Park, CA-based developer of high-speed, low-cost DNA sequencing technology, said it teamed up with scientists at Harvard Medical School to sequence the complete genome of the cholera strain circulating in Haiti, and trace its origin to Southeast Asia. Looking at the bug’s genome showed scientists this is a hardy bug with strong ability to spread, and hit human beings especially hard. This kind of experiment, which took 90 minutes to generate data, would have been impossible to do a couple years ago.

—Not to be outdone, PacBio’s rival down the road in Mountain View, CA (NASDAQ: GNOM) talked about how it is setting its sights on sequencing entire human genomes specifically for cancer researchers. Complete Genomics CEO Cliff Reid gave Xconomy the inside scoop on this strategy in his first interview since his company emerged from its IPO quiet period.

—While both PacBio and Complete Genomics are doing things with sequencing that were unthinkable two years ago, we are now seeing startups emerge with business plans that are enabled by this transformation in sequencing. The latest is San Francisco-based Sequenta, which raised $13 million in venture capital to create a diagnostics business that uses genome sequencing to spot changes in the DNA of immune system T cells and B cells as people mature. Seeing the changes in an individual’s immune system ought to be able to help doctors diagnose various immune disorders, and specifically monitor response to therapy, the company says.

Onyx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ONXX), the Emeryville, CA-based cancer drug developer, unveiled some promising results of its experimental treatment for multiple myeloma at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Orlando, FL. The set of data, which Onyx hopes will pave the way for FDA approval, could set the stage for a showdown in the marketplace with the trailblazer in the field of proteasome inhibitors for myeloma—Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company.

LS9, the South San Francisco-based developer of renewable fuels, said this week it has hired Ed Dineen as its new CEO. Dineen was previously the chief operating officer of LyondellBasell Industries, a petrochemical, fuels and polymer company with annual revenues of over $30 billion.

—Most of the time I work from my office in Seattle, but last week I was in San Francisco for a short trip to think big and network at the Convergence Life Sciences Forum. I wrote a wrap-up piece titled “how to raise money for an honest-to-god innovative biotech startup” based on a great panel that featured Venrock’s Bryan Roberts, OncoMed Pharmaceuticals’ Paul Hastings, and Anacor Pharmaceuticals’ David Perry.

—Lastly, I announced a couple of big Xconomy events coming up in 2011 on the West Coast that will feature some heavy hitters from the San Francisco Bay Area. The first event on January 27, “San Diego’s Fight Against Diabesity” will feature Kurt Graves, the executive chairman of Hayward, CA-based Intarcia Therapeutics as one of the national executives we’re bringing to San Diego. The second event on February 7, “Computing in the Age of the $1,000 Genome” will feature Cliff Reid of Complete Genomics, Eric Schadt of PacBio, and two of the key people at Microsoft and Amazon seeking to help biologists make sense of all this new genomic data.