PacBio Seeks $200M IPO, Complete Genomics Adds $39M, Siluria Envisions Cleaner Plastics, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

8/20/10Follow @xconomy

The movement toward better/faster/cheaper gene sequencing dominated the Bay Area life sciences beat this week. Serious money is flowing into this industry.

Pacific Biosciences lit a spark for gene sequencing this week, when it released an investor prospectus that says it hopes to raise $200 million through an IPO. The Menlo Park, CA-based company is seeking to sequence entire human genomes for a few hundred bucks in about an hour’s time, which it hopes will make it a dominant player in a market that it says could be worth $3.6 billion in 2014.

—Not to be outdone by PacBio, its fast/cheap gene sequencing rival Complete Genomics snapped up another $39 million in venture capital this week to fatten up its balance sheet as it prepares its own IPO. The Mountain View, CA-based company has a different business model for producing cheap genome sequences—instead of selling the instrument to researchers, it requires the scientist to send samples to a centralized company lab.

—While PacBio and Complete Genomics are interesting enough on their own, the biggest story of the week in sequencing came from South San Francisco and Guilford, CT-based Ion Torrent Systems. This stealthy upstart, the developer of an instrument that reads ions associated with each chemical unit of DNA, agreed to be acquired by Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies for $375 million upfront, plus another potential $350 million in milestone payments. This is a clearly aggressive move by Life Tech to gain the upper hand in the sequencing market from the current market leader, San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN). Might this lucrative sale whet the appetites of IPO investors in PacBio or Complete Genomics?

—Taking a break from sequencing for a minute, I stopped to visit with South San Francisco-based KaloBios, a developer of antibody drugs. CEO David Pritchard talked about the company’s strategy for using antibodies in the treatment of deadly bacteria, the kind that afflict people with cystic fibrosis and who get lung infections while on hospital ventilators.

—I caught up with the guys at Siluria Technologies, one of the really big idea startups emerging in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. This company is working on a new process for converting natural gas into ethylene, the most common chemical intermediate in the world, and a key ingredient in all sorts of plastics and other materials in everyday life. This company has been stealthy for the past couple of years, but I learned that some big names from Arch Venture Partners, Alloy Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are among its early backers.

BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN), the Novato, CA-based developer of drugs for rare diseases, said it has acquired privately held ZyStor Therapeutics in a deal that could ultimately be worth $115 million.

—Fremont, CA-based Quark Pharmaceuticals said it clinched an agreement with Novartis. The deal will provide Quark with $10 million in upfront cash, plus as much as $670 million in milestone payments. In return, Novartis will get an option to develop Quark’s RNA interference drug being developed to prevent acute kidney injury in patients undergoing heart surgery.

MLC Dx, a San Francisco-based maker of molecular diagnostics, told VentureWire it has raised $5.9 million in a Series B financing. Mohr Davidow Ventures is one of the backers, and the firm has lined up a second time behind CEO Thomas Willis, the former CEO of ParAllele Bioscience.

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