Wireless Medicine Gets $45M Booster Shot, Arena’s Weight-Loss Trial Underwhelms Wall Street, Venter’s Synthetic Genomics About to Ramp Up, & Other San Diego BizTech News

4/6/09Follow @bvbigelow

We saw first-hand the increasing convergence of advanced information technologies and the life sciences here in San Diego last week. The trend was evident in the formation of a new institute for wireless healthcare, and in a roundtable discussion about personal medicine at UC San Diego that highlighted the need for easy access to electronic health records. Those stories, and the rest of the region’s BizTech news, below.

San Diego is now the home of a new medical research institute that specializes in using wireless sensors and technologies to advance health care. With $45 million in funding from the Gary and Mary West Foundation announced last week, the West Wireless Health Institute will test the use of wireless devices in clinical research to help prevent, diagnose, monitor, and treat conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to heart disease and obesity.

San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) said a late-stage clinical trial of its drug lorcaserin met a key criteria for weight loss drug candidates set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But investors were underwhelmed by the results, which showed that patients on the drug lost only about 3.6 percent more body weight than patients on a placebo. Arena still has two more clinical trials to complete, however, before seeking FDA approval.

Human Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter told scores of venture investors that Synthetic Genomics, the San Diego startup he co-founded, has engineered a species of microbes to “eat” coal and produce methane gas. With interest rising in San Diego’s emerging cleantech cluster, Venter said he’s close to making an announcement about demonstrating the technology on a larger scale.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sponsored a roundtable discussion about personalized health care at UC San Diego as a way to map future funding and research priorities through 2020. But that future could arrive sooner, as the federal government plans to spend more than $19 billion on electronic health records.

Genoptix (NASDAQ: [[ticker;GXDX]]) founder and CEO Tina Nova told Luke her company has become profitable by filling a gap among laboratory testing services. Genoptix operates a specialized facility that provides a comprehensive package of diagnostic tests for cancers of the blood.

Technology developed under a Pentagon program enabled San Diego’s Avaak to develop a commercial product for home or business monitoring that will be released in coming months. The startup packages two small video cameras with a wireless gateway, enabling secure, real-time Internet video viewing of everything from family birthday parties to remote business operations.

When Qualcomm (NYSE: [[ticker: QCOM]]) acquired Advanced Micro Devices’s (NYSE: AMD) graphics chip division in January, the San Diego wireless giant also acquired Finland’s Bitboys. The company has an amazing and turbulent past, as explained by Juha-Pekka Tikka, our Stanford innovation journalism fellow.

Sweden’s Innovationsbro (Innovation Bridge), a business networking organization, said it is establishing its first overseas office in San Diego to help Swedish technology companies enter international markets.

Juha-Pekka profiled Tyson McDowell, the 27-year-old CEO and co-founder of Benchmark Revenue Management, a San Diego software developer that helps hospitals handle billing and collection issues more efficiently. McDowell helped invent the PandaCam at the San Diego Zoo and flies an ex-Soviet fighter jet in his spare time.

San Diego’s Veoh, which is seeking online video users in a market dominated by YouTube and Hulu, replaced its chief executive and cut 25 employees, or 36 percent of its work force. Founder and former CEO Dmitry Shapiro replaced Steve Mitgang, who joined the venture-backed company from Yahoo about two years ago.

A couple of venture deals showed San Diego’s life sciences sector still has a pulse. Ambrx, which is developing breakthrough therapeutics with genetically-engineered drugs, raised $10 million, and Traversa Therapeutics, which is developing RNAi-based treatments for cancer, raised $5 million from Newton Centre, MA-based Morningside Venture Investments, San Diego’s Mesa Verde Venture Partners, and existing investors.

Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme, which operates two facilities in San Diego, reported that its gene therapy for people with peripheral artery disease failed in a clinical trial to help them regain some mobility. The treatment was supposed to help stimulate the growth of new blood vessels around clogged arteries in the legs.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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