West Coast Biotech Roundup: StemCells, Five Prime, Qualcomm & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Bad weather has brought parts of the South and the Eastern seaboard to a halt today, but out west, we’re wearing our gumboots and splashing onward. While the rain drums steadily down, the news flow this week includes trade secret theft accusations, Senate drug-price investigations, big cash payouts to departing executives, big FDA approvals, and rumors of new ventures. Let’s get to the roundup.

—U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week summed up their 18-month investigation into the prices Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) decided to charge for its hepatitis C drug, sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), and the follow-on, Harvoni. Now that their report is out, the senators want public feedback by March 4 to help shape future policy on drug pricing and the value of innovation.

—StemCells, a Newark, CA-based regenerative medicine company, said its CEO Martin McGlynn would leave with a $1 million-plus severance package after 15 years at the helm, as first reported by the San Francisco Business Times. Under McGlynn, who stepped down officially on January 17, StemCells has never brought a drug to market. The company recently laid off staff and suspended work on a treatment for macular degeneration. It also made a questionable move to name Alan Trounson a board member in 2014, just days after Trounson left his post as president of California’s stem cell agency, CIRM. Trounson had overseen CIRM’s $19 million award to StemCells in 2012 to help fund an experimental Alzheimer’s treatment. CIRM later pulled the plug on the funding, but StemCells had already received $10 million it didn’t have to give back. The incident prompted CIRM to revise its conflict of interest policies. Trounson remains on the board. The company has promoted president and COO Ian Massey to replace McGlynn.

—South San Francisco, CA-based Five Prime Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FPRX) and international drug giant (NYSE: GSK) GlaxoSmithKline have been development partners for years, including work on an experimental cancer drug called FP-1039. The first data from a lung cancer trial using FP-1039 and run by GSK were reported last fall. Five Prime disclosed this week that information about FP-1039 was included in the alleged theft of trade secrets that has led to federal charges against two former GSK workers and others. The people charged are accused of stealing from GSK in an attempt to start a new drug company in China.

—Meanwhile, San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) and GlaxoSmithKline are exploring a joint venture to develop medical technologies, according to a Bloomberg report Wednesday that cited unidentified sources. The report said talks are early and nothing has been decided. Qualcomm said in early January it was expanding a partnership with Novartis (NYSE: NVS) to improve data aggregation in clinical trials, and to develop Internet-of-things technology for inhalers.

—Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) of Thousand Oaks, CA, received FDA approval for expanded use of its multiple myeloma drug carfilzomib (Kyprolis). Doctors can now prescribe carfilzomib on its own or in combination with other drugs for patients whose disease has relapsed or not responded after other treatments. The blood cancer accounts for 2 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths, and 47 percent of people survive five years after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.

—BioTheranostics, a San Diego specialist in cancer diagnostics, secured $32 million in a financing led by MVM Life Science Partners, with Canepa Advanced Healthcare Fund and HealthQuest Capital chipping in. BioTheranostics said Thursday it would use the cash to spin off from the French medical diagnostics conglomerate bioMérieux, which will remain a minority shareholder.

—CytomX Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTMX) of South San Francisco, CA, said it received $10 million from its oncology drug development partner Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY). BMS paid CytomX $50 million upfront in 2014 when they inked their deal, which gives Bristol the rights to apply CytomX technology to four molecular targets. CytomX went public in October.

—Synthetic DNA maker Twist Bioscience of San Francisco raised $61 million in Series D funding alongside $20 million in debt.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Quintano via a Creative Commons license.