Biotech Survival Index: Cash Woes Creeping Up on San Diego Life Sciences Companies

11/18/08Follow @xconomy

These are grim times for many industries, and the life sciences are no exception. Most of these enterprises depend on the ability to raise fresh investment capital on a regular basis, so when investors turn cautious, things can get ugly fast.

To get a sense of just how big of a bruising San Diego biotechs are heading for, I combed through the balance sheets of 23 publicly-traded companies. My main questions are the most vital ones to any biotech company—how much cash does the operation have, and how fast is it burning through it?

This, of course, is a national story that will reverberate locally. Profitable industry powerhouses like Amgen and Genentech aren’t in trouble, but about half of the 248 unprofitable biotechs that are publicly traded have less than a year’s worth of cash on hand, according to an October report by Eun Yang, an analyst with Jeffries & Co. Of the 23 publicly traded companies I analyzed in San Diego just three are what could be called consistently profitable: Invitrogen, Illumina and Genoptix. Of the 23 sampled, just 10 have more than $100 million of cash and investments socked away in the bank.

If the markets don’t turn around by the middle to late 2009, it’s clear that a lot of these companies will be suffering. “A considerable amount of companies will have to consider drastic measures or go out of business. It is indeed not pretty,” says Kleanthis Xanthopoulus, CEO of Regulus Therapeutics, in an email. (Xanthopoulus, an Xconomist, runs a private company that spun off two relatively healthy companies. Both have more than $500 million in available cash: Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals and Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, and it’s in no particular order. My hope is this covers most of the major publicly traded players in the region. If you have any suggestions for companies to add, please send me a note at editors@xconomy.com. (For the real masochists out there, I did a similar analysis in Seattle last week, so you can see which region is worse off.)

Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN). This San Diego-based company made headlines when it cut 340 jobs at its local headquarters. The move was made to cope with a double whammy of declining demand for its best-selling product, exenatide, (Byetta) and an FDA delay in approval of a more convenient once-weekly form of the medicine. The company had $806 million in cash at the end of September, and says the cuts should enable it to preserve $80 million in 2009 and turn cash flow positive by the end of 2010.

Somaxon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SOMX). This San Diego company has an important FDA deadline coming up on Dec. 1 for the review of an insomnia medicine. Any delays, which have become common at the overworked agency, could spell trouble. Somaxon had $22.6 million in cash and investments at the end of September, and ran up a net loss of $10.3 million in third quarter.

Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA). This San Diego drug developer, working on medicines for obesity and diabetes, has more cash than most. It expects to end the year with $115 million in cash on hand after paying off some debt. It reported a net loss of $56.2 million in the third quarter. One worrisome stat: Arena started the year with $398 million in cash and investments. Let’s hope for shareholders’ sake the company has turned off that gusher in spending. … Next Page »

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