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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Alfred Mann, ResMed, Illumina, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

President Obama unfurled key aspects of his year-old Precision Medicine Initiative yesterday at a White House summit. A central concept of the initiative is to collect detailed health and genomic data from 1 million volunteers across the U.S., and put that information into a database that can be used to help doctors find the optimal treatment for an individual patient with a particular disease. Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and Vanderbilt University got the job of putting that together.

Meanwhile, NantWorks founder and CEO Patrick Soon-Shiong made his case in San Diego for what may be an even more ambitious initiative—The Cancer MoonShot 2020—to develop a next-generation cancer immunotherapy platform. In a talk at the Biocom industry group’s Global Life Science Partnering Conference, Soon-Shiong said the effort required would be comparable to the American quest to put a man on the moon. The billionaire scientist laid out his vision for integrating real-time bioinformatics, various molecular diagnostic tests, machine learning, predictive modeling, clinical trials, and patient care to develop a unique immunotherapy treatment for each cancer patient. Afterward, Biocom CEO Joe Panetta said, “In the 17 years I’ve been at Biocom this has been the most impactful talk I’ve ever heard.”

Turning now to other life sciences news along the West Coast:

—ResMed (NYSE: RMD), the San Diego maker of medical equipment for sleep apnea and other breathing disorders, extended its spending spree on connected healthcare companies with the acquisition of privately held Brightree for $800 million in cash and debt. Atlanta, GA-based Brightree develops software used in business management and post-acute care. Over the past year or so, ResMed has acquired at least four companies—Inova Labs, CareTouch, Curative Medical, and Jaysec.

Forty Seven spun out of Stanford University this week with a suite of intellectual property— including one drug candidate already in two different Phase 1 clinical trials—that came from the lab of Irving Weissman, one of the world’s top stem cell biologists. Four venture firms have pledged $75 million to continue the Phase 1 trials and start several more, using an unusual immunotherapeutic approach against various cancer types. The academics were able to move the program into the clinic with two grants totaling $30 million from California’s stem cell agency, CIRM.

— Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) of San Diego filed a patent infringement lawsuit against another sequencing company, Oxford Nanopore. The smaller British company, which makes DNA sequencers that fit into a back pocket, threatens to take hold in markets where mobility and portability are paramount. In a statement, Oxford said Illumina’s lawsuit, as well as a complaint to the U.S. trade authorities, were without merit and called Illumina a “market monopolist.” (MIT Technology Review has links to both documents in its story.)

—A year-long clinical trial of ZMapp, the antibody drug therapy for treating Ebola, was able to enroll only 72 out of a planned 200 patients before the Ebola epidemic burned out in West Africa, according to LeafBio, the commercial arm of San Diego’s Mapp Biopharmaceutical. While health regulators found that ZMapp was well-tolerated and showed promise as a potential treatment, results of the truncated study were not statistically significant. LeafBio said the FDA has encouraged Mapp Bio to continue to make ZMapp available for emergency use while development continues.

—The founder and namesake of MannKind (NASDAQ: MNKD), Alfred Mann, died yesterday, according to The Los Angeles Times. He was 90. The serial entrepreneur founded a number of device companies that developed breakthrough products, including the first rechargeable pacemaker, an artificial retina, and an advanced insulin pump. MannKind, however, struggled to bring its inhaled insulin product Affrezza to market, only to see its marketing partner Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) ditch the product earlier this year. Mann had recently resigned from the company.

—San Diego’s Renova Therapeutics said it was awarded a $802,500 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue its preclinical research on a gene therapy treatment for congestive heart failure. The grant] enables Renova to continue its work on the treatment, which is meant to boost the production of a key protein in heart cells and hopefully reverse the degeneration of heart tissue [right?]. Renova intends to eventually move the prospective treatment to human studies.

More CIRM-funded work: Jeanne Loring of The Scripps Research Institute and Nik Schork of the J. Craig Venter Institute, both in San Diego, published work concluding that pluripotent stem cells that are created by reprogramming adult cells should be viable to use in cell therapies. There have long been worries that so-called induced pluripotent stem cells could harbor mutations that, when put into a patient, might cause cancer. But the new study said the process of induced pluripotency is “unlikely to introduce variants that would make the cells inappropriate for therapy.”

—A new clinical trial unit for immuno-oncology is taking shape at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, with the Fred Hutch, the University of Washington, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) all investing. All its participants’ trials will be consolidated in one space, which should be up and running in mid-2016.

—Caribou Biosciences of Berkeley, CA, signed a nonexclusive license with Integrated DNA Technologies of Coralville, IA, for CRISPR-Cas9 research material.