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SynergEyes Gets $13.3M, Carl Icahn Aims to Shake Up BiogenIdec Board, Layoffs Mount, & More San Diego BizTech News

San Diego’s biotech executives may be hearing billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s name more often than they care to. We begin our roundup today with Icahn, who has been increasing his stake in and demanding changes at San Diego’s Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), also wants to shake up management at Biogen Idec, which is based in Cambridge, MA, and has a sizable operation in San Diego.

—After pressuring Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) last year to sell itself to a big drugmaker, Icahn returned last week to nominate a slate of four new directors for election to the company board.

—On the Amylin front, Eastbourne Capital Management says it also wants to nominate a slate of five new directors for election to the company’s 12-member board. Eastbourne says its slate of new directors won’t conflict with Icahn’s bid to also get five new directors elected to Amylin’s board, but it surely increases the corporate intrigue.

—Video game maker THQ (NASDAQ: THQI), based north of Los Angeles in Agoura Hills, CA, disclosed plans last week to close its wireless game development unit in San Diego and lay off all 31 employees. A few days later, the global game developer announced additional reductions that altogether will reduce fiscal 2010 spending by $220 million and headcount by 600—or 24 percent of its estimated 2,500-person workforce.

—Other layoffs reported last week: San Diego’s Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals says its cut 20 employees, or about a third of its workforce; and semiconductor industry equipment maker Cohu revealed it cut 60 jobs, or about 6 percent, of its workforce.

—When the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to postpone the digital TV conversion that was set for Feb. 17, San Diego’s Qualcomm was forced to delay the expansion of its MediaFlo service as well. In-Stat analyst Gerry Kaufhold told me he estimates that Qualcomm was gearing up to launch its wireless TV service in about a dozen markets on Feb. 18.

—Mike Krenn told me he expects it will be harder to get startup companies funded this year. Krenn started the Venture Pipeline at the San Diego office of the DLA Piper law firm to help screen and scrub startup business plans and advise the firm’s entrepreneur clients.

—As long as diabetes runs rampant in the United States, with more that 20 million people affected, San Diego’s Phenomix figures there will still be a market for the drug it is developing. Phenomix CEO Laura Shawver recently outlined the biotech’s plans for Luke.

—In a sign of the times, a relatively large syndicate of six venture firms came together to provide $13.3 million in Series C funding for SynergEyes, a Carlsbad, CA, startup developing and selling a line of hybrid contact lenses for vision disorders.

—By coincidence, Venrock Associates partner Bryan Roberts, who specializes in healthcare investing, told Luke the venerable firm is putting more care into its syndicate formation. Roberts anticipates the effects of the economic downturn could affect VC firms as well as their portfolio companies.

—Finally, the X Prize Foundation awarded UC Irvine students Kyle Good of Temecula, CA, and Bryan Le of Manhattan Beach, CA, won its $25,000 prize for winning its “What’s Your Crazy Green Idea?” YouTube competition. Their video “The Capacitor Challenge” called for creating a new type of energy storage device.