West Coast Biotech Roundup: Ebola, Immunotherapy, Avalon & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

[Updated with Novo Nordisk obesity news, 9/26/14, 12:38pm. See below.] Out west this week, there was Ebola-related pharmaceutical news large and small. Vancouver biotech Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR) got emergency clearance from the U.S. and Canada to administer its unproven Ebola drug to people with the infection, and the company announced a few people had already received it.

On the small side, a tiny San Francisco startup asked strangers to donate a few thousand dollars to fund its cancer drug in lab tests against Ebola. And the strangers did, in one of more unusual crowdfunding stories of the year.

The other theme this week was immunotherapy. The biggest news in the hot area didn’t take place on the West Coast (that would be the $104 million Series A round for British biotech Amplimmune). But as you’ll see below, local developers Eureka Therapeutics raised $21 million from a syndicate of investors based in Asia, and Amgen spinout Atara Biotherapeutics put a marker down on the technology, taking an option to license immunotherapy programs from New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. We’ve got a lot of items this week, so let’s get to the roundup.

—Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Vancouver, BC, had two Ebola-related news items this week. It said Monday it has the green light from the FDA and Health Canada to provide its experimental Ebola treatment TKM-Ebola on an emergency basis to people with confirmed or suspected infections. The FDA gave its OK as a “compassionate use exemption,” which means those using it are not part of a controlled clinical trial. Tekmira said “a number of people” had already been administered the drug under the exemption, including an American doctor who was infected in Liberia and treated in Nebraska.

On Tuesday, Tekmira said it would produce a drug to test against the current strain of Ebola wreaking havoc in several West African countries. (TKM-Ebola was developed to combat a different strain.) The new treatment will be part of a trial in those countries, led by a consortium of health groups including Medicins Sans Frontieres, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The U.K.’s Wellcome Trust is providing about $4 million to fund the drug’s manufacture and the trials on the ground.

—Tiny San Francisco startup OncoSynergy raised $5,000 through crowdfunding site Experiment to do preclinical, cell-based tests of its cancer drug against Ebola. The firm, a spinout from the University of California, San Francisco, received orphan drug designation from the FDA in August for its cancer drug, which has not yet reached human trials. The drug targets CD-29, a protein that helps cells adhere to other surfaces. It’s also believed to be the entry port Ebola uses to infect cells and replicate, so OncoSynergy will see if its antibody treatment can block the virus.

—Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk made official what was speculation last week: It will open an obesity research center in Seattle, growing to about 60 people once fully operational in 2016. Kevin Grove, a senior scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, will be the unit’s chief. The obesity team will be located with Novo’s Type 1 diabetes research group, which was established in 2009.

—A collaboration struck last year between San Diego’s Avalon Ventures and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) has resulted in the formation of two more biotech startups in San Diego. Silarus Therapeutics is developing drugs for disorders that involve iron regulation in red blood cell production. Thyritope Biosciences is working on drugs for Graves’ disease. Both will receive up to $10 million in Series A funding from the Avalon-GSK partnership. The VC-pharma collaboration is one of a handful of new models to … Next Page »

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