San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Illumina, Mirati, Auspex, and More

10/25/13Follow @bvbigelow

Some big news over the last week came from the Scripps Translational Science Institute, which successfully renewed its grant from the National Institutes of Health. We have details, along with a rundown of other news.

The Scripps Translational Science Institute said it is getting $29 million over the next five years to continue its work in advancing the use genomic information to provide individualized treatments for patients. The institute, established in 2008 with a five-year, $20 million grant from the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, was among 15 research centers throughout the U.S. to get renewed funding.

Mirati Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MRTX), which moved its headquarters to San Diego in a consolidation and restart of Montreal-based MethylGene, raised almost $57 million in a secondary public offering. The company sold more than 3.2 million shares of its common stock at a price of $17.50 per share. Murati plans to use the proceeds for R&D, working capital, potential licensing or partnership deals, and other general corporate purposes. The company is developing a line of oral cancer drugs based on kinase inhibitors that target specific mutations found only in cancer cells.

—San Diego’s Arcturus Therapeutics, still in its first year, said it raised $5 million in a Series A round raised entirely from individual investors in the United States, Canada, and Japan. The company specializes in RNA interference technology for treating rare diseases.

—San Diego-based Elcelyx Therapeutics said it completed a mid-trial study that evaluated multiple doses of its delayed release formulation of generic metformin HCL (NewMet) in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The study showed NewMet was as efficacious or better than generic metformin. In a statement, Elcelyx said the results support further development of NewMet for more than 3 million patients in the United States who cannot tolerate metformin. The company plans to seek a pharmaceutical partner to fund the kind of large Phase 3 clinical studies required by the FDA.

—With generalist investors stampeding into life sciences stocks, Luke proclaimed in his BioBeat column that irrational exuberance has returned to Wall Street—at least in the life sciences sector. He offers a list of 21 warning signs for unchastened investors.

—After reporting its eighth consecutive quarter of sequential revenue growth, San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), said it is offering a new service through its clinical services laboratory. The company said it would provide whole genome sequencing services, beginning in December, to help doctors identify the underlying genetic cause of a rare or undiagnosed disease.

—Pratik Shah, the San Diego-based partner of the venture firm Thomas McNerney & Partners, told me he’s decided to take on the role as CEO of Auspex Pharmaceuticals, where he was previously executive chairman. With its specialized portfolio of deuterium-based drugs, Shah says Auspex is now in a late-stage trial for treating chorea, the involuntary, jerky movements associated with Huntington’s disease. “We’ve really transformed from conducting research and development into a late-stage orphan disease company,” he said. Shah said he remains with Thomas McNerney, but will not be looking for new investments.

Genalyte, a San Diego biomedical diagnostics company founded in 2007, said it received a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a biomarker panel to measure the auto antibodies the body generates in response to antigens produced by cancer cells. The company is developing the panel to run on its platform technology, the Maverick Detection System, designed to provide rapid, accurate, and scalable detection of proteins and nucleic acids with little or no need for sample preparation, using a single drop of blood or serum.

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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  • Brad Webb

    Genalyte National Cancer Institute Grant.
    The technology developed at Genalyte holds great potential as a diagnostic tool to diagnose cancer by monitoring the immune responses to cancer cells. In the body, cancer cells are recognized as foreign invaders by the immune system, which mounts a response in an effort to prevent their growth. This early warning system, which is being used by drug developers to develop “immunomodulator” drugs, permits discrimination between cancer types and allows monitoring disease progression and the effect of therapy. The ability to easily characterize cancer antigens in patients will rapidly accelerate progress in cancer research and therapy development.

    As an example of the potential value of a blood assay for cancer, consider lung cancer. Lung cancer is one of the most vicious killers in the field. Generally diagnosed symptomatically at a very late stage, five year survival rates of about 15% are typical. But, if lung cancer is diagnosed early, survival rates as high as 80% can be seen.
    A few years ago, NCI funded a large clinical trial to assess the value of using CT scans (computed X-rays) for early detection in at risk patients. The study found only a very small improvement in diagnostic value, at great expense and with a high false positive rate. The false positive rate from the test was as high as 50%, which led to expensive invasive biopsies with no cancer detected.
    Research in the last few years has shown that autoantibodies to lung cancer can be detected in the blood up to five years before a tumor is visible. This suggests the possibility that a blood diagnostic test has great value, and this is what the NCI has awarded Genalyte the $1 million grant to discover. A high sensitivity and specificity blood bioassay with a low cost per test, very high predictive results, and ease of use in the clinic will lead to early detection and reduced lung cancer death rates. The NCI recognized that the missing link is a low cost, rapid, accurate detection system, and this is what Genalyte has to offer.
    By Brad Webb, Claremont Creek Ventures, http://www.claremontcreek.com