San Diego’s Fight Against Diabesity: Can Investors Make Money, and Can Startups Still Thrive?

12/3/10Follow @xconomy

San Diego might be the world’s leading center for “diabesity” R&D, and since this represents two of the most common public health threats today (diabetes and obesity), logic would say this ought to be a great thing for the local biotech cluster.

Yet anyone who follows healthcare headlines knows that times have never been tougher for companies who aspire to put a dent in these conditions with new pharmaceuticals. And that’s a concern for anyone with a stake in San Diego’s biotech hub.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to a candid, constructive conversation at Xconomy’s next event, “San Diego’s Fight Against Diabesity.” This gathering is scheduled for January 27 at Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN). I’m still putting together the program for this event, but I can say a few things now. We have confirmed that the CEOs of two of San Diego’s leading public companies in the diabetes and obesity fields (Amylin’s Dan Bradbury and Arena Pharmaceuticals’ Jack Lief) will be there. So will Kurt Graves, the executive chairman of Intarcia, an ambitious venture-backed diabetes company from the Bay Area that seeks to deliver Amylin’s bread-and-butter diabetes drug, exenatide, through a novel implantable device.

I’ve also confirmed that three Bay Area VCs who closely track the fields of diabetes and obesity will join this conversation. They are: Bob More of Frazier Healthcare Ventures; Pratik Shah of Thomas, McNerney & Partners; and Mike Powell of Sofinnova Ventures (an early investor in San Diego-based Orexigen Therapeutics). And because we like to hear from entrepreneurs pushing the edges of science and technology, I am reaching out to a couple more folks to close out the lineup. One of them, John West, the CEO of ViaCyte (NovoCell) has already agreed to participate. ViaCyte is pursuing stem cell techniques to stimulate production of pancreatic beta cells that can produce enough insulin to help diabetics better control their blood sugar.

There will be no getting around the grim realities of developing new drugs in this field, given how Amylin and Arena have both suffered painful setbacks in recent months at the FDA. Orexigen (NASDAQ: OREX) is the next local company stepping up to the plate, appearing before an FDA advisory panel with its obesity drug on December 7, and hoping for a positive word from U.S. regulators by the end of January. But I’m sure we’ll also hear from these executives on how they plan to dust themselves off and find a way forward—this is by its nature a high-risk, high-reward business, after all.

Tickets are already starting to move for this event even though it sounds pretty far off—January 27. It’s best to register now, because the super saver discount rate of $65 expires on December 9. Meantime, I’ll keep working to assemble a dynamite lineup of speakers, and will update this space when everything is nailed down. See you there at Amylin headquarters on January 27.

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