Fluidigm Completes IPO on 2nd Try, Geron CEO Exits, Amgen Pushes ‘Son of Dmab,’ & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

2/11/11Follow @xconomy

We’re starting to see a little—just a little—bit of life get injected into the IPO market for life sciences companies. Nothing much to get too excited about yet, but it’s worth monitoring.

—South San Francisco-based Fluidigm had an epic yarn of a story when it first IPO attempt was botched during the financial crisis of 2008. But the company, which makes microfluidic instruments for biological researchers, bounced back this week with a $75 million IPO, setting its initial price at $13.50 a share. Fluidigm (NASDAQ: FLDM) saw a modest 3.9 percent uptick in its shares on Day 1 as a public company, closing yesterday at $14.02.

—Palo Alto, CA-based Anacor Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ANAC) said this week it formed a collaboration to discover and develop new drugs for acne along with Scottsdale, AZ-based Medicis Pharmaceutical (NYSE: MRX). Medicis knows a little something about the skin business, as the maker of the hit anti-wrinkle product marketed as Restylane.

Steve Burrill, the man who wears many hats in the biotech industry, likes to say he’s “geographically agnostic” when it comes to seeking out hot new biotech companies. So it was interesting to hear the San Francisco-based banker talk this week about why he’s beating a trail to my hometown, Seattle, to keynote a local biotech confab for the second straight year.

Geron (NASDAQ: GERN), the Menlo Park, CA-based developer of stem cell therapies, said this week its longtime CEO Thomas Okarma is stepping down and leaving the board of directors. David Greenwood, the chief financial officer, is stepping up to be president, interim CEO, and a member of the board.

—Biotech giant Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) captured a lot of attention the last couple years with its novel antibody for bone disorders, called denosumab, or ‘Dmab’ for short. What fewer people realize is that the company, which has R&D operations in South San Francisco, has a second antibody in the pipeline that works to strengthen bones in a different way than Dmab that has the bone research world abuzz.

—Fast/cheap gene sequencing is here and it is starting to transform the business models for molecular diagnostic companies, according to Rowan Chapman, a partner with Mohr Davidow Ventures. Like most any VC, she talked up her firm’s portfolio, pointing to Bay Area companies like Sequenta, Artemis Health, Tethys Bioscience, and Crescendo Bioscience as organizations that are taking advantage of advances in genomics, and biomarker analysis, to come up with new diagnostics that they hope the healthcare system will find to be a lot more valuable than diagnostics of the past.

—Before I jet on to the next story, there’s one last word about the IPO market. My San Diego colleague Bruce Bigelow chimed in with a report on the market from Ernst & Young. The consulting firm counted 57 IPOs in the final three months of last year, and counted 56 more in the queue. Like I said at the top, we’ll keep an eye out for signs of life—like whether more companies go out, and whether stock prices climb for the fortunate ones able to make it on the NASDAQ.

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