Domain Raises a $500M VC Fund, Dissident Prods Amylin Again, Avanir Passes Pivotal Test, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

8/13/09Follow @bvbigelow

While San Diego has seen a big decline in VC investments this year, it’s nice to know that Domain Associates, one of the region’s most-active life sciences VCs, has raised a new fund. We’ve got the rundown on that and more news of interest to the life sciences community.

—San Diego’s life sciences community got some encouraging news earlier this week when the venture capital firm Domain Associates said it has closed Domain Partners VIII, a $500 million venture capital fund devoted exclusively to the life sciences industry. While Domain is based in Princeton, NJ, the firm maintains an office in San Diego, and many of its investments are in California.

—Seattle’s Bonnie Ramsey first learned of a cystic fibrosis drug under development by San Diego’s Aurora Biosciences nine years ago, when she was working for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Therapeutic Development Network. Aurora was later acquired by Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), and now the Cambridge, MA, biotech has advanced development of Aurora’s CF drug—now known as VX-770—to the final stage of clinical trials. Luke talked at length with Ramsey, who is a clinical researcher affiliated with Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the University of Washington.

—How long should it take a company’s reconstituted board of directors to elect a new chairman? It’s taken more than two months at San Diego’s Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), which was subjected to a proxy fight this spring. That’s taxing the patience of Rick Barry, the founder and portfolio manager of Eastbourne Capital Management. Barry, whose firm holds a 12.5 percent stake in Amylin and has been pushing for change at the diabetes drug specialist, told me he wants the new chairman to be chosen from one of the four newly elected directors to the company’s 12-person board.

—SpectraScience (OTCBB: [[ticker: SCIE]]), a San Diego-based maker of optical biopsy technology used to detect cancerous tissue, has raised $930,000 of a planned $5 million investment round among individual investors. The medical diagnostics company plans to use the capital to expand its sales and distribution network for equipment it has developed to search for telltale signs of cancer.

——The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded a $3.3 million grant to privately held Ichor Medical Systems of San Diego for development of a DNA vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease. The company makes it easier for cells to absorb its DNA vaccines by using an electroporation delivery system that creates temporary pores in cell membranes.

—Sequenom (NASDAQ: SQNM), the San Diego biotech developing DNA-based diagnostic tests, has maintained radio silence since it first disclosed three months ago it had uncovered R&D test data was mishandled for its much-anticipated genetic test for Down syndrome. In a recent statement, Sequenom says the company is no longer relying on previously announced test data and results, but it’s unclear if that means the company’s planned introduction is slipping further behind schedule. Sequenom had planned to introduce its SEQureDx test in June.

—Avanir Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AVNR), a one-time San Diego biotech now based in Aliso Viejo, CA, said it hopes to submit results of its late-stage drug trial for treating an unusual neurological disorder to the FDA in the first half of next year. The company said this week that its drug passed a final-stage clinical trial, designed to see whether it was effective in treating involuntary bouts of laughter, crying, and other emotional outbursts.

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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