Plexxikon Cancer Drug Extends Lives, Med Devices Lose Swagger, Amgen Sells Fremont Facility, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Francisco — 

One of the Bay Area’s emerging biotech companies built up some suspense this week when it said its lead drug helped extend the lives of patients with a deadly skin cancer.

—Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon, along with its partners at the Genentech unit of Roche, said this week that an experimental drug for metastatic melanoma was able to extend lives in a pivotal study of 675 patients. Key details—like how much longer patients lived—will be presented later this year at a major medical meeting. But Plexxikon is bullish enough about this drug, PLX4032, that it has exercised a right to build its own sales force to co-promote the product in the U.S. along with Genentech.

—If you want to hear some entrepreneurs who have really gotten ornery the past couple years, talk to folks in your local medical device startups. There are lots of anecdotal horror stories going around about the FDA and insurers making things harder than ever for med devices to make it in the U.S. The consulting firm PwC, in a report released this week, sought to analyze the U.S. environment for med device innovation in a more systematic way over the past five years. It found that the U.S. is still way ahead of other countries, but the lead is slipping.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) said this week it has agreed to sell its Fremont, CA facility to Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim for an undisclosed amount. The facility, which Amgen obtained through its 2006 acquisition of Abgenix, employs about 360 people. Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, CA, says it will keep a Bay Area presence through its South San Francisco office.

—We compiled a handy reference to all those guest editorials you’ve seen streaming in to the Xconomist Forum the past few weeks, with perspectives from infotech, biotech, and cleantech business leaders around the country. There are several posts here of particular interest to Bay Area biotechies that you might have missed the first time around, including those from BayBio’s Gail Maderis, Onyx Pharmaceuticals’ Tony Coles, Amgen’s Dave Lacey, and Mohr Davidow’s Sue Siegel.

—Redwood City, CA-based Protagonist Therapeutics formed a partnership with Cambridge, MA-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD) to discover new peptide-based drugs. Terms weren’t disclosed.

—We had an interesting op-ed this week from biotech consultant Stewart Lyman, who wonders whether biotech startups are suffering from information overload, or underload. Many small companies can’t afford to pay for subscriptions to lots of scientific journals anymore, and Lyman wonders what kind of impact this might have on their ability to innovate.

—It seems like weeks ago already, but last Friday I posted a short roundup of impressions from the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference at San Francisco’s Union Square. I snapped a few pictures on my new handy-dandy smartphone, and confessed how I guzzled too much caffeine and ate some really bad food. Something tells me I’m not alone.

—Since JP Morgan was its usual frenzy of meetings, I didn’t get around to posting last week’s roundup of weekly headlines. So here are two short stories that broke during the week that are worth revisiting if you overlooked them during that week’s mad dash. One was about Bayer striking a new master R&D agreement with UC San Francisco in connection with the move of its new facility to Mission Bay. The other was a wrap up of some more news from the world of cheaper/faster gene sequencing, from Mountain View, CA-based Complete Genomics (NASDAQ: GNOM), and the market leader, San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN).