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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 commercial duties in the U.S. Venetoclax can only be used after the patient is confirmed via a FDA-approved diagnostic test to have the 17p deletion.

—After raising $45 million in Series A financing a couple weeks ago, San Diego-based Zavante Therapeutics said yesterday it has initiated a pivotal clinical study for its experimental drug, fosfomycin, an injectible antibiotic intended for hospitalized patients with complicated urinary tract infections. Zavante said 110 clinical sites around the world are expected to enroll 460 patients hospitalized with such infections.

—Tobira Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TBRA) of South San Francisco said Monday it has inked two deals with modest upfront payments with South Korean firm Dong-A. Tobira gains rights to Dong-A’s evogliptin, a diabetes drug approved in South Korea, and Dong-A gains rights to Tobira’s cenicriviroc. The companies plan to develop and market them in their respective regions, both as single products and in combination, particularly for the fatty liver disease NASH, which has gained a lot of attention from drug makers and regulators in recent years.

—Post-Shkreli, Kalobios CEO Cameron Durrant proclaimed Monday he is committed to a new business model “to define and develop transparent, responsible pricing for the products we hope to bring to patients in the future.”

Bloomberg reports that San Francisco biotech Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN), which owns partial rights to the prostate cancer drug enzalutimide (Xtandi), recently shut the door on a takeover offer by Sanofi (NYSE: [[ticker:SNY])), but other offers, or even hostile takeover attempts, could be forthcoming.

—Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) of Seattle made news twice the past several days. Last week it announced a 50-50 joint venture in Shanghai, China, with WuXi AppTech. Called JW Biotechnology, the startup will develop CAR-T cell therapies for the Chinese market. The CEO is James Li, formerly of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Amgen China. Early this week, Juno’s ally and investor Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) exercised a $50 million option for commercial rights outside the U.S. and China to Juno’s experimental products that aim to treat certain leukemias and lymphomas that carry the CD19 protein. Celgene and Juno forged a sweeping partnership last summer.

—The Seattle Times reports that Orbimed Advisors partner Stephen Thompson, who also teaches at the University of Washington, is starting a new biotech company called Silverback Therapeutics.

—St. Louis, MO-based RiverVest Venture Partners said it has officially opened an office in San Diego, where former BioMed Ventures principal Nancy Hong will join RiverVest managing director Niall O’Donnell, who has been working in San Diego for the past 10 years.

Molecular Stethoscope, a startup founded in San Diego by Stanford University’s Stephen Quake and Eric Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said Monday it is now collaborating with 23 academic and medical institutions to advance its technology. In a statement Monday, the company said it has developed proprietary technology that analyzes circulating cell-free RNA in a blood sample to monitor organ damage.

Cardiff Kook photo by Tim Buss, 2013 (creative commons).

Xconomy San Diego Editor Bruce V. Bigelow contributed to this report.