West Coast Biotech Roundup: Pharmacyclics, Gates, Ikaria & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

[Corrected 3/9/15, 11:46 pm. See below.] What a week for West Coast news, topped off by AbbVie’s surprise $21 billion grab of Pharmacyclics. It’s the ninth-largest biopharma acquisition of all time, according to one analyst. There was also immunotherapy news—a sentence that seems these days to apply to any week of the calendar—and immunotherapy views, from our columnist Stewart Lyman. On the nonprofit front, the San Francisco women’s health firm Medicines360 has a new FDA approval and a unique business model, while in Seattle the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made its largest biotech equity investment so far. All that, and so much more. Let’s round it up.

—Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ: PCYC) of Sunnyvale, CA, left its longtime partner to marry someone else. The firm was acquired by AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) for $21 billion—not by its development and marketing partner Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), as had been rumored for some time. J&J owns much of the rights to ibrutinib (Imbruvica), a cancer treatment approaching $1 billion in annual sales.

—[A previous version of this story referred to Ikaria as a Seattle-based company. Ikaria moved its headquarters to Hampton, NJ, in 2007.] Ikaria, which makes a critical care product for infants, is being sold by its private equity owner for $2.3 billion to global biopharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt. The company began as a spinout of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle with hopes of developing a “hibernation on demand” drug, but pivoted to a treatment for so-called “blue baby” syndrome.

—San Diego-based Orexigen (NASDAQ: OREX) got in hot water with the FDA with inappropriate disclosure of interim data from a trial of its weight-loss drug Contrave. The agency says the company must redo an ongoing safety trial required as part of Contrave’s approval last September. Investors didn’t seem to mind, boosting Orexigen shares to close Wednesday at $8.49 apiece, perhaps because the disclosure was related to a patent filing that hinted at new uses for Contrave.

—Four West Coast women and life science industry veterans, including the new CEO of Novato, CA-based Raptor Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: RPTP), talked this week at the CalBio conference in San Francisco about the gender gap in both the biopharma and the venture worlds.

—Our Seattle-based columnist Stewart Lyman discussed this week the lessons his hometown’s Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) and other cancer immunotherapy companies could learn from Dendreon, which was recently bought out of bankruptcy by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. Valeant has already begun laying off Dendreon staff, according to the Seattle Times.

—Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) continued its cancer-related dealmaking, paying Danish firm Bavarian Nordic $60 million for the option to license BN’s Phase 3 immunotherapy for prostate cancer. BN’s immunotherapy R&D group is in the San Francisco Bay Area. BMS would pay $80 more to exercise the option plus more than $700 million in potential milestones and royalties.

—I wrote my biweekly column about the rare feat of selling a biotech company, holding back a piece of it as the foundation of a new company, then riding that second company to an acquisition or IPO. In San Diego, it happened with Aragon Pharmaceuticals and Seragon Pharmaceuticals. In the Bay Area, Ilypsa begat Relypsa.

—One might even say that Ilypsa and Relypsa spawned Tricida of South San Francisco, CA, which said Wednesday it has raised a $30 million Series B round. Its president and CEO Gerrit Klaerner was a cofounder of both Ilypsa and Relypsa. Like those companies, Tricida is developing a treatment to restore electrolyte balance in chronic kidney disease patients.

—The digital health firm formerly known as The Activity Exchange has new funds—a $6.2 million Series A round led by GE Ventures—and a new name. Now called Evidation Health, the company will track its clients’ customers use of health-related digital tools—from Fitbits to social media check-ins at a gym—to provide clients, such as insurance group Humana, data that can be used for predictive analysis.

—Another digital health company aiming for a big impact is Chrono Therapeutics, which said Wednesday it now has the backing of San Francisco incubator and seed investor Rock Health to further its smoking cessation product.

—San Francisco-based nonprofit biotech Medicines360 got FDA approval Friday for its intrauterine device (IUD). It will comarket the product in the U.S. with Actavis under a unique model: Actavis will sell to the commercial market, and part of its revenues will help Medicines360 subsidize access to the contraceptive at low-income and public health clinics.

—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s small biotech investment group made its largest investment yet, putting $52 million into Germany’s CureVac, which is making vaccines from natural messenger RNA. Beyond the equity stake, the foundation will also fund CureVac projects to treat rotavirus, HIV, and other infectious diseases.

—Serenus Biotherapeutics of San Francisco sold a 41 percent stake for $18 million to Malin, an Irish life sciences holding company chaired by former Elan CEO Kelly Martin. Serenus, which aims to develop previously approved drugs for the African market, is run by former Elan chief medical officer Menghis Bairu.

—Johnson & Johnson cut the ribbon on its long-planned South San Francisco incubator with 10 tenants. They include gene therapy developer Audentes Therapeutics, which has already raised significant venture cash, and Alkahest, which concurrently announced that plasma therapy firm Grifols would buy 45 percent of its shares for $37.5 million.

—San Diego-based Otonomy (NASDAQ: OTIC) said it has submitted a new drug application to the FDA for its long-lasting antibiotic gel, which is intended to treat middle ear infections in children undergoing tympanostomy tube placement surgery. The treatment could be introduced in the United States next year if approved with no delays.

—San Diego’s CoDa Therapeutics has raised just over $1 million of a planned $3.2 million round, according to a recent regulatory filing. CoDa has been advancing an experimental drug for healing wounds, saying it can dramatically improve the body’s ability to repair damaged tissue, and has been shown to work tissue types that include the eye, skin, brain, nerve, and spinal cord.

—Xconomy San Diego editor Bruce V. Bigelow contributed to this report.