Gilead Bets $600M on Cancer, Genentech Gets a Hearing, Jennerex Shows Early Survival Edge, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

2/25/11Follow @xconomy

This week we covered a lot of news about cancer, and some of it came from a surprising new source.

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), the Foster City, CA-based company that made its name with drugs that turn HIV into a chronic disease, has placed a big new bet for the future on cancer and inflammation. Gilead agreed to pay as much as $600 million to acquire Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals to obtain its pipeline of oral pills that it hopes will turn certain cancers and inflammatory conditions into more manageable, chronic diseases like HIV. I got the skinny from Gilead’s chief scientist, Norbert Bischofberger, in this follow-up interview.

—The controversy about whether to use Genentech‘s hit antibody, bevacizumab (Avastin) for treating breast cancer is far from over. The South San Francisco-based unit of Roche said this week that the FDA has agreed to let the company make its case on June 28 & 29 for why the drug should continue to be cleared for sale as a treatment for breast cancer, after the FDA said in December it planned to revoke the breast cancer clearance. If the FDA decision to yank breast cancer off the approved prescribing label, Genentech stands to lose hundreds of millions in future sales, analysts say.

—Redwood City, CA-based Pearl Therapeutics, the developer of treatments for lung diseases, said this week it has hired a new CEO, Charles (Chuck) Bramlage, from healthcare giant Covidien. Pearl raised $69 million in venture capital last fall, and soon after, showed its drug beat a multi-billion dollar blockbuster for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in a head-to-head study of 118 patients.

—Here’s one angle you don’t see every day: A life sciences-focused VC firm moving away from the Bay Area. Thomas, McNerney & Partners, which has $600 million under management, said it plans to move its West Coast office from San Francisco to San Diego.

—Speaking of moves to San Diego, we reported on another big one this week. UC Berkeley chemist Michael Marletta was formally introduced as the new president of The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. Xconomy was the first to report, back on Jan. 31, that Marletta would soon be named the top guy at Scripps, a major center for biomedical research.

—We also has the scoop last week about San Francisco-based Jennerex Biotherapeutics, which has produced some intriguing (albeit quite preliminary) data which suggests its cancer-fighting virus treatment is prolonging lives of patients with severe forms of liver cancer. Jennerex plans to present more detailed results later this year, with more time for follow-up, at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

—BayBio CEO Gail Maderis offered up a guest editorial this week with her view of how the federal government, if it wants to spur more entrepreneurship, could do some specific things with the people on the ground making it happen in the Bay Area.

—Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to personally make it into town this week for a cool event at UCSF Mission Bay which celebrated the 10th anniversary of QB3. Former Gov. Gray Davis, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom were there, along with QB3′s founding director Regis Kelly. You can check Ron Leuty’s recap on this for the San Francisco Business Times. I’m working on some related themes for another big Xconomy event, with help from the folks at QB3 and BayBio, which will explore the 20-year outlook for the life sciences industry in the Bay Area. I hope to see you there at UCSF Mission Bay on March 16.

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