West Coast Biotech Roundup: Amgen, Grizzlies, Topol, Faraday & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

As biotech ended its worst market month since the recession, it was fitting that one of the week’s best stories was about bears. Grizzlies, to be precise. Grizzlies are oh-so-Western, so of course we were intrigued, and even better, the story involves a West Coast biotech company.

The Wall Street Journal broke news this week that joint research between Amgen, Washington State University, and the University of Idaho was retracted when one Amgen scientist was found to have manipulated data. Published last year, the study investigated why grizzlies gain weight before hibernation without developing diabetes. The Journal‘s Jonathan Rockoff found that Amgen’s Kevin Corbit was dismissed by the company, but Corbit told Rockoff he was let go for “fabricating research ‘on another matter.'”

This, as you might guess, bears watching.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), based in Thousand Oaks, CA, was in the news for other reasons, too: a big Alzheimer’s business deal and cancer immunotherapy sales numbers. In Seattle, Xconomy learned about the significant funding of a recently-launched company Faraday. In the Bay Area, a stem cell bank opened its doors and two companies made gene therapy news for opposite reasons. Our San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow has been on the life sciences trail, with three separate stories on the site this week.

Does all that whet your omnivorous appetite? Can’t wait to sink your claws in? Let’s get to the roundup.

—Eric Topol, the prominent doctor, genomic scientist, and digital health leader, called for the “emancipation of patient data” in a talk at a San Diego digital health conference hosted by Qualcomm Life, the healthtech-focused subsidiary of Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM). A much-needed revolution in healthtech innovation is inevitable once patients gain control over their own electronic health records, Topol said.

—Amgen and Swiss firm Novartis (NYSE: NVS) said Tuesday they plan to combine Alzheimer’s R&D programs that focus on blocking the enzyme beta-secretase, or BACE. BACE inhibitors are a common type of drug in Alzheimer’s R&D pipelines, and like most other avenues toward an Alzheimer’s treatment, they have found little success. The deal also calls for Novartis to share rights to Amgen’s migraine treatments. The companies did not disclose specific financial details.

—San Diego-based Acadia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACAD) said it has submitted a new drug application for pimavanserin (Nuplazid), its lead drug candidate for treating the hallucinations and delusions that afflict about 40 percent of patients with Parkinson’s disease. The biopharmaceutical also named Steve Davis as president and CEO; he had been serving as Acadia’s interim CEO since March 11, when longtime CEO Uli Hacksell unexpectedly retired.

—Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ: SGMO) of Richmond, CA, said Wednesday that its partner Shire won’t continue co-development of Sangamo’s experimental hemophilia programs. Full rights revert back to Sangamo. The original deal was struck three and a half years ago, with Shire paying Sangamo $13 million upfront.

—Faraday Pharmaceuticals in Seattle unveiled a new CEO, biopharma veteran Stephen Hill, and its chairman told Xconomy that its Series A round has grown to more than $30 million. Faraday debuted last year to pursue drugs that blunt the damage from reperfusion, which occurs when oxygen-starved tissue is suddenly reintroduced to blood flow—such as the heart of a heart attack patient who receives a stent. The firm’s cofounder Mark Roth and venture backers were also behind the Seattle startup Ikaria.

—Scientists at the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego have enrolled more than 4,000 people in the first clinical trial for the “Scanadu Scout,” a diagnostic device that measures four vital signs and sends the results to a smartphone within 10 seconds. Scanadu, based in Mountain View, CA, is using wireless and sensor technologies to develop a portfolio of FDA-approved, handheld devices that provide hospital-grade diagnostics.

—A stem cell bank funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine—the state’s publicly-funded stem cell research agency—opened at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, CA. Touted as the world’s largest publicly available stem cell bank, the facility was built by Wisconsin’s Cellular Dynamics and the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, a non-profit based in Camden, NJ.

—Fresh off raising its third fund in four years, San Francisco’s Foresite Capital Management is heavily invested in the current crop of privately held biotech companies that hope the IPO window remains open this fall. Foresite is one of many crossover investors that have helped fuel the nearly three-year biotech IPO boom by taking big stakes in what is often a company’s final private round. Foresite CEO Jim Tananbaum told Xconomy that his firm likes “larger rounds and deep pockets around the table with us.”

—One of those biotechs looking to go public is CytomX Therapeutics of South San Francisco. It filed paperwork with the SEC Monday and set an early goal of raising $100 million.

—Audentes Therapeutics of San Francisco said Tuesday it has acquired another privately held gene therapy developer, Cardiogen Sciences of Palo Alto, CA, for an undisclosed price. Cardiogen is using adeno-associated virus technology, which is also Audentes’s technology of choice, to develop gene therapies for inherited cardiac arrhythmias. It was founded last year.

— University of California San Diego lawyers continue to battle with the University of Southern California over an Alzheimer’s research program. But UCSD is moving ahead with the program, including a search for a new director and four new clinical trials, the school’s vice chancellor for health sciences David Brenner wrote in an op-ed piece Friday for Xconomy. The previous director, Paul Aisen, left UCSD for USC and tried to bring the program with him, sparking the legal fight.

—Late last Thursday, Amgen got good news from the FDA, which approved its anti-cholesterol drug evolocumab (Repatha). Amgen said it would charge $14,100 per year but, in a cryptic statement, seemed to leave open the possibility for performance-based pricing.