How Novartis Got Its Vaccines Groove Back, Intellikine Gets a Drug Development Deal, Ambrx CEO Departs, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

7/15/10Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s life sciences newsmakers must have been over compensating, after slacking off last week. This week we have deals, fundings, comings, and goings—not to mention Luke scoops No. 1 and 2—and our summary begins now.

Infinity Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, MA, could pay San Diego-based Intellikine as much as $488.5 million in various types of payments under a global drug development and commercialization deal revealed last week. As much as $450 million depends on whether Intellikine can win regulatory approval for two anti-cancer drug candidates and get them to the marketplace.

UC San Diego Health Sciences and its Clinical and Translational Research Institute got a five-year, $37.2 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The funding is intended to boost what’s known as “translational science,” which encompasses the concept of rapidly translating lab research into new and effective therapies.

—Luke scoop No. 1: Ambrx CEO Steve Kaldor, who joined the biotech startup three years ago, quietly left the company at the end of June. The company did not issue a statement about the executive departure, but a spokeswoman for Ambrx confirmed Kaldor was no longer with the company. The spokeswoman added that Peter Schultz, a renowned chemist, Ambrx founder, and a member of its board, is expected to offer more advice.

—Speaking of Peter Schultz, Luke also learned that Schultz is out as founding director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation. The Novartis-funded institute, which has 560 employees working in a 260,000 square-foot facility, is one of the major scientific players in the biomedical research cluster atop Torrey Pines Mesa. That was Luke scoop No. 2.

—Speaking of Novartis, the global head of technical operations at Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics detailed his company’s turnaround at Chiron during a recent swing through San Diego. Novartis acquired Chiron in 2006, and the Novartis executive, Matthew Stober, said fear pervaded the old workforce. Employees were  afraid to make decisions and stand up to management, which can hurt an operation.

—The outcome of a vote expected today on the weight-loss drug Qnexa by a panel of expert advisers to the FDA could determine the fate of Qnexa’s developer, Mountain View, CA-based —Vivus (NASDAQ: VVUS). But as Luke reported, the panel’s vote on Qnexa also could indicate the committee’s disposition toward rival weight loss drugs under development by Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX) and Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA), two San Diego rivals developing their own weight loss drugs. A regulatory review the FDA posted on its website about the Vivus drug Tuesday wasn’t as harsh as some investors anticipated.

—San Diego’s Femta Pharmaceuticals raised $2.2 million in equity and options financing. The two-year-old startup has now raised a total of $7 million to develop targeted antibody drugs that pack more punch.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded San Diego’s AnaptysBio a $1.5 million contract to develop military biosensors that could be used to detect specific biological agents in possible terrorist attacks.

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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