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California Stem Cell Agency Awards Grants, Cohu Buys German Rival, Amylin Gets Go-Ahead, & More San Diego BizTech News

Xconomy San Diego — 

Venture and private equity firms apparently have clamped down on much of their funding activities in San Diego, but some local firms were able to take advantage of state and federal sources of cash last week. We also saw the Food and Drug Administration give Amylin a break and Qualcomm’s top executives offer their outlook for next year.

—One significant development for San Diego’s biotech community is that the state’s stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, opened its spigot for funding business ventures. The change is important because the institute has doled out more than $614 million through 229 grants since it was created in 2005, with all but one grant going to academic scientists at non-profit universities and research centers. Last week the institute awarded six grants to life science companies, and four with operations in San Diego got a total of more than $3.3 million.

—San Diego’s Cohu, which has traditionally been one of the most cautious players in the semiconductor industry, agreed to pay $80 million in cash to buy German rival Rasco from Dover Corp. Cohu makes thermal pick-and-place test handling machines used by chipmakers to test the performance of semiconductors with wire leads. Rasco specializes in gravity-feed machines that test smaller chips used increasingly in consumer electronics devices.

—Amylin Pharmaceuticals said it will be able to file an application to market a new once-a-week formulation of its diabetes drug in the first half of 2009 after all. In November, the life sciences company warned that it might take longer to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

—Qualcomm’s top three executives told a San Diego audience that their customers have pushed out chip orders for the wireless giant’s third-generation technologies because of the economic downturn. They’re looking for a business rebound in the second half of 2009.

—Encinitas CA-based Verve Wireless, which distributes news and information to wireless devices in more than 200 U.S. markets, says it signed deals to get content from six new media partners, including The San Diego Union-Tribune. Verve’s technology optimizes news stories based on the type of device, so that a basic cell phone gets a simple text version while a smart phone displays a multimedia menu that links to stories, photos and video.

—The parent company that operates Carlsbad, CA-based Alphatec Spine says it secured $30 million in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank and Oxford Finance. Alphatec, which makes products used in surgical treatments of spine disorders, says the deal significantly increases its ability to borrow.

—The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded a $19.5 million biofuels contract to a consortium headed by San Diego’s General Atomics. The Pentagon’s R&D agency wants to develop new ways of making jet fuel from algae and other biomass feedstock.

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