SD Life Sciences Roundup: Arena, PatientSafe, MEI Pharma, & More

6/28/12Follow @bvbigelow

Here’s my roundup of new developments from San Diego’s life sciences cluster over the past week.

—After initially rejecting a new drug application from San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA), the FDA approved lorcaserin (Belviq)—the first new weight-loss drug to be approved in 13 years. With some two-thirds of Americans considered overweight or obese, the FDA has been under pressure to approve a new weight-loss treatment. At the same time, U.S. health regulators had set a high bar for approval because of safety problems and even deaths associated with previous weight-loss drugs, such as the fen-phen diet drug combo that was pulled from the market in 1997.

Inhibrx, a stealthy antibody therapeutics startup in San Diego, said it has struck a worldwide licensing agreement with Celgene that could eventually be worth as much as $500 million. Inhibrx says on its website that its drug development programs are focused on cancer, inflammatory and metabolic diseases, but the target of its antibody program with Celgene was not disclosed. In a statement, Celgene’s president of research and early development, Tom Daniel, said, “Inhibrx has developed an antibody with strong pre-clinical study results on a highly validated target with very promising therapeutic potential.”

—PatientSafe Solutions, the startup led by San Diego serial entrepreneur Jim Sweeney, raised almost $5.5 million of a planned $12 million financing round, according to a recent regulatory filing. As I reported last year, the company has developed a souped-up Apple iPod Touch to help nurses manage their clinical care workflow, guide patient care, coordinate tasks—and ultimately reduce medical errors. The latest cash infusion follows a total of $73 million the company has raised since 2003. Investors including American River Ventures, Camden Partners, Integral Capital Partners, Menlo Ventures, Psilos Group, Shea Ventures, TPG Biotechnology Partners, and Valhalla Capital.

—San Diego-based Vital Therapies, which has been developing an artificial liver to support a patient with compromised liver function for as long as 30 days, raised $2.5 million in debt and rights to securities, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company raised more than $28.1 million in a Series C round of financing from investors that included Delphi Ventures, DFJ DragonFund China, HBM BioMed China, Heights Capital Management, MedVenture Associates, Toucan Capital, Valley Ventures and Versant Ventures, according to VentureWire. The company was founded in 2003, and has raised a total of roughly $40 million.

Biocom CRO website

—Biocom, the San Diego life sciences industry group, has launched a website to help biotech companies find clinical research organizations (CROs). Beth Kuch, Biocom’s new marketing and communications manager, told me in an email the new Web-based directory includes a drug development guide that provides a detailed description of each phase of drug development, and includes a list of member CROs that understand the key disease areas and can provide needed R&D services in each specific phase.

—Marshall Edwards, a cancer drug development company that moved to San Diego a couple years ago, said it’s changing its name to MEI Pharma, and its common stock will begin trading under a new ticker symbol (NASDAQ:[[MEIP]]) on Monday. In a statement, CEO Daniel Gold said, “Over the past two years we have successfully relocated our headquarters to the U.S., acquired a robust intellectual property portfolio, assembled world-class drug development expertise and advanced our two most promising oncology candidates into clinical trials.”

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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