Genentech Loses Avastin Battle, Fluidigm’s Second Chance at an IPO, Ion Torrent’s Debut, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Genentech dominated the Bay Area life sciences headlines this week. Some of the news was good, some not so good.

—The FDA said it plans to revoke its approval of South San Francisco-based Genentech‘s blockbuster antibody drug, bevacizumab (Avastin), for women with breast cancer. The drug, the first of its kind shown to cut off blood flow to tumors, is currently approved for colon and lung cancer, and will remain so. The data to support its use for breast cancer, however, is more controversial. Genentech said it plans to appeal the FDA’s decision.

—Late last week, Genentech reported on more encouraging news of another antibody drug in development for breast cancer, called pertuzumab. This treatment, which looked destined for the scrap heap five years ago, showed promise in a clinical trial when tested in combination with the company’s other hit breast cancer antibody, trastuzumab (Herceptin).

—My Boston colleague Ryan McBride offered up some insight into how Genentech is thinking about the future of antibody drug discovery. Ryan delivered this report on how Genentech, Eli Lilly, and Human Genomes Sciences, are the latest companies to ink deals with Lebanon, NH-based Adimab to gain access to its fast yeast-based antibody drug discovery technology.

—Novels are written about the kind of twists and turns South San Francisco-based Fluidigm experienced the last time it tried to go public two years ago. The earlier bid was withdrawn at the height of the global financial crisis, but Fluidigm, the maker of genomic analysis instruments, has continued to make enough progress that it is being primed for a second shot at an IPO.

—Ion Torrent Systems, the gene sequencing instrument maker in Guilford, CT and South San Francisco, generated some more buzz this week. The company, now part of Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies, introduced its DNA sequencer built on semiconductor technology. The machine costs less than $50,000, about one-tenth as much as the most powerful gene sequencing machines on the market today.

—Mountain View, CA-based Vivus (NASDAQ: VVUS), which failed to win FDA approval earlier this year for a new obesity drug, said this week it has responded in writing to some of the concerns raised by regulators. We’ll keep watching to see if this satisfies the agency or not.