West Coast Biotech Roundup: Theranos, Medivation, Juno, and More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Sean Parker, who made billions of dollars investing in Napster and Facebook, hosted a big party this week with Lady Gaga, John Legend, and a lot of movie stars.

Oh, and Parker pledged $250 million to create a cancer immunotherapy center in his own name that will coordinate research between six academic centers spread across the U.S.: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the University of California campuses in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

There won’t be any research onsite at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in Los Angeles, where Parker lives. The staff will help the six centers share data and intellectual property, including arranging licenses to drug companies eager to fill their pipelines and test combinations of immunotherapy drugs, which many in the field believe are needed to expand immunotherapy’s use beyond the sliver of patients who currently benefit from the first wave of treatments. The $250 million comes from the Parker Foundation, which Parker launched last year. UCSF vice chancellor Jeff Bluestone will be the president and CEO of the institute.

The immunotherapy effort is the latest to link cancer researchers across multiple institutions. Last fall, Memorial Sloan Kettering and six other cancer treatment centers agreed to share the genomic and other health data of their patients. Dubbed GENIE, the effort aims to pool data from tens of thousands of cancer patients to provide deeper insights and richer analyses.

Bestowing funding on cancer immunotherapy might also be a trending topic among the elites. In San Diego, the shareholder activist Ralph Whitworth threw a fund-raising party in early March for the Immunotherapy Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 2014 to accelerate immunotherapy research at the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. Whitworth himself has been diagnosed with a rare HPV-related cancer, and has donated $10 million to the effort, according to a profile by Peter Rowe last month in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

We can’t offer technorati or pop stars, but we can help you get your head around the week’s West Coast biotech happenings, including more bad news for Theranos, as well as encouraging news for Zavante Therapeutics, Genentech and AbbVie, and Juno Therapeutics.

—Government regulators have proposed banning Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes and others from the blood-testing business for at least two years. The Wall Street Journal reported that Theranos failed to fix what regulators called major problems at its California laboratory.

—South San Francisco, CA-based Genentech, a division of Roche, and AbbVie (NASDAQ: ABBV) received the FDA’s approval for venetoclax (Venclexta), a drug to treat people whose chronic lymphocytic leukemia is caused by a genetic defect—a missing part of chromosome 17. The companies share … Next Page »

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