E-Commerce Pioneer Sets Up Cancer Commons, Affymax Hires New Boss, Plexxikon Opts In, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Francisco — 

The biotech year doesn’t really start until the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference gets underway in San Francisco next week, but there were a few small news items that hit this week. See you next week in Union Square.

Affymax (NASDAQ: AFFY), the Palo Alto, CA-based developer of an experimental anemia drug, said it has hired John Orwin as its new CEO, replacing Arlene Morris. Job No. 1 for Orwin will be getting the company’s lead compound approved by the FDA—despite the doubts that linger in the stock market about whether this is possible.

—Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon said this week it has exercised its option to co-promote its experimental melanoma drug along with the U.S.-based Genentech unit of Roche. Plexxikon, which reported some startling early-stage clinical trial results with its drug over the summer, will have to pay some of the marketing expenses of this product, and stands to get an “enhanced royalty” because of its decision to set up its own sales force alongside Genentech’s.

Genentech also crossed the wire earlier in the week when AMRI, the Albany, NY-based pharmaceutical service firm, said it licensed some antibacterial drug candidates to the biotech giant. This caught my eye partly because when I think of Genentech, I don’t think of antibiotics, so this could be an interesting new thing to watch.

—We’re always looking for innovative ideas at the intersection of biotech and IT, and I found one this week in something called the Cancer Commons. Internet commerce pioneer Marty Tenenbaum talked about how he’s pushing hard to create an open source data repository where cancer physicians and researchers can look at how individuals with certain tumor types are responding (or not) to certain treatments, and potentially see patterns that might not emerge in the usual setting of a controlled clinical trial.

Xoma (NASDAQ: XOMA), the Berkeley, CA-based developer of antibody drugs, said this week it has secured a $35 million upfront payment under a partnership with France-based Les Laboratories Servier. Xoma also released some three-month interim clinical trial data for its drug, XOMA 052, although the final six-month results won’t be available until the second quarter of 2011.

—Those of you who follow the op-ed section of Xconomy have noticed that we’ve had a steady stream of interesting guest editorials the past couple weeks. Here are three that are probably of most interest to Bay Area life sciences readers:

BayBio’s Gail Maderis on Northern California’s Top 5 Biotech Innovation News Stories of 2010

Onyx Pharmaceuticals’ Tony Coles on Big Surprises of 2010 and Trends to Watch in 2011

Mohr Davidow’s Sue Siegel on Five Things to Look for In the Coming Year in Life Sciences