Avalon’s Kinsella Upbraids Big Pharma, Scripps Names Marletta to Succeed Lerner, CalciMedica Scores $6M, & More San Diego Life Science News

2/24/11Follow @bvbigelow

We had some big names and big news out of San Diego’s life sciences community over the past week. Our roundup is here.

Avalon Ventures founder Kevin Kinsella unleashed a scathing critique of some shortsighted and mercenary business tactics he says he’s encountered in dealing with pharmaceutical companies, which have him questioning the longtime partnership between venture-backed biotechs and Big Pharma. “Their predatory business practices,” Kinsella said, “are pushing the sector almost to the point of extinction.”

—The board of trustees at The Scripps Research Institute named U.C. Berkeley’s Michael Marletta as president and successor to Richard Lerner, who has led the San Diego-based biomedical research institute for 25 years. The announcement came three weeks after my colleague Luke Timmerman reported that it was imminent. Richard Gephardt, the former House Majority Leader who heads the institute’s board, told The San Diego Union-Tribune the 60-year-old Marletta is a leader who’s interested in building the endowment at Scripps.

—The health care venture firm Thomas, McNerney and Partners plans to relocate its San Francisco to San Diego later this year. The firm’s arrival comes at a good time for San Diego, which has a robust life sciences community, but has been searching for ways to boost its hometown venture capital resources.

Biocom’s Global Life Science Partnership Conference, which ends today at San Diego’s Estancia Hotel & Spa, adjusted its program this year to reflect the fact that an increasing source of capital for biotech startups is coming from pharma partnerships.

—Investors drove the price of Vertex Pharmaceuticals‘ shares 15 percent higher yesterday after the Cambridge, MA-based drug-maker (which has operations in San Diego) reported that a new drug candidate significantly improved lung function in a late-stage trial of patients with cystic fibrosis. The stock gained $5.75 to close at $43.97 a share, a level that Vertex hasn’t seen since 2006.

—San Diego’s CalciMedica channeled another $6 million in venture financing into its coffers after the company hit a milestone goal by delivering the first doses of a new experimental drug to people with moderate to severe psoriasis. The five-year-old startup has now raised a total of about $25 million to pursue drugs intended to work against calcium channels on the surface of cells.

—In-Q-Tel, the investment arm for U.S. intelligence agencies, made a “strategic investment” in Biomatrica, a San Diego startup founded in 2005 to develop technology for storing biological samples at room-temperature. As Luke explained in 2009, Biomatrica’s technology works by forming a thermo-stable barrier during the drying process, which protects samples from degradation during storage at room temperature. Earlier this month, Pleasanton, CA-based IntegenX acquired another local biosample storage firm, GenVault of Carlsbad, CA.

CEO Paul Grayson left San Diego’s Fate Therapeutics to start a new company, which Fate did not identify in its announcement about the change. Grayson led Fate for three years.

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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