Roche Acquires Anadys, Wests Create $100M Fund, Johnson & Johnson Makes Room for 20 Startups, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

10/20/11Follow @bvbigelow

Between the formation of the new $100 million West Health Investment Fund and the new wet-lab space Johnson & Johnson is hosting for as many as 20 startups, you’d have to say it’s been a good week for life sciences innovation in San Diego. Get briefed here or get left behind.

—San Diego’s Gary and Mary West, who provided $90 million to establish the West Wireless Health Institute, established the $100 million West Health Investment Fund to invest solely in startups that promise to drive down the cost of health care. Don Casey, the fund manager and West Wireless CEO, vowed that the fund would not cause a “balloon squeeze,” where innovation moves the cost from one part of the health system to another.

Johnson & Johnson has refurbished part of its Pharmaceutical Research & Development facility in San Diego to provide lab and office space for as many 20 life sciences startups. Each startup will have to make monthly payments to stay at the Janssen Labs at San Diego, but J&J says there is no “quid pro quo,” and each tenant will get office space and access to a common area with wet lab research equipment that would be difficult for a company to afford on its own.

Anadys Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ANDS), the San Diego-based biotech developing antiviral drugs for treating hepatitis, agreed to an all-cash buyout offer worth $230 million from Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant. Roche’s offer to pay $3.70 for each Anadys share was a 256 percent premium over the previous trading day’s close of $1.04. Anadys had just released encouraging results from a mid-stage clinical trial of its lead hepatitis C drug.

Venture capital firms invested $6.95 billion in 876 deals throughout the United States—including $202 million in 21 venture deals in the San Diego area—during the three months that ended Sept. 30, according to the MoneyTree Report. The third-quarter survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association, and Thomson Reuters also highlighted a shift in VC activity, with a pullback in funding for life sciences. That was also true in San Diego, where nine life sciences companies got $26 million, or 13 percent of total VC investments here.

—Following a two-year setback, San Diego’s Sequenom (NASDAQ: SQNM) rolled out a laboratory-developed blood test that can determine with 99.1 percent accuracy if a fetus has Down syndrome. Sequenom says its proprietary test detects the abnormal chromosome for the syndrome in fragments of fetal DNA that circulate in the maternal bloodstream. Revelations concerning “mishandled” research data led Sequenom to shelve an RNA-based diagnostic test in 2009. Sequenom also recently announced plans to build an $18.7 million molecular diagnostics clinical laboratory in Research Triangle Park, NC.

—While the past decade has been all about generating DNA sequence data for whole genomes, Luke predicted in his BioBeat that the next decade will be all about interpreting that data. As such companies as Illumina, Life Technologies, Complete Genomics, and PacBio accelerate the speed of sequencing equipment, experts agree the $1,000 genome is only a couple years away.

—Using voice-recognition software much like the system already available in the Ford Edge crossover SUV, a team at Ford Research & Innovation near Detroit, MI, are developing technology to help diabetic motorists monitor their blood sugar on the go. At the Wireless Health 2011 Academic and Research Conference in San Diego last week, Ford’s K. Venkatesh Prasad said he’s been working with Medtronic and WellDoc to develop technologies that can motorists manage their chronic illnesses.

We reported a series of financing deals for life sciences startups in the San Diego area: AnaptysBio got $8 million for its work on antibody-based therapies; Sonexa Therapeutics raised $1 million to advance its work on Alzheimer’s; Eclipse Therapeutics raised $2.8 million for it’s approach to treating cancer; and Naviscan got $830,000 to advance its Positron Emission Tomography scanner technology.

—Shanghai’s WuXi PharmaTech said it acquired Abgent, based in San Diego and Suzhou, China, which is one of the world’s largest makers of antibody reagents. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

—San Diego’s Panmira Pharmaceuticals, the startup created to develop promising drug candidates that were not part of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $325 million acquisition of Amira Pharmaceuticals earlier this year, named Hari Kumar as CEO. Kumar was Amira’s chief business officer and led Amira’s side of the Bristol-Myers transaction—which was focused on the sale of Amira’s fibrosis program.

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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