Xenoport Wins FDA Green Light, The Coming ‘HealthTech’ Wave, More Genomes Go Public, & More Bay Area Life Sciences News

4/8/11Follow @xconomy

If your definition of news is when something surprising happens, then we had some pretty big news on the SF biotech beat this week.

—Santa Clara, CA-based Xenoport (NASDAQ: XNPT), which many investors wrote off a year ago, bounced back big-time this week by winning a surprise FDA approval. The company, and its partner GlaxoSmithKline, said they gained clearance to start selling a new drug for restless legs syndrome, after resolving the FDA’s prior questions about cases of cancer in rats that got extreme high doses of the drug. Shares of Xenoport boomed 56 percent on the positive FDA news.

Complete Genomics (NASDAQ: GNOM), the Mountain View, CA-based company that sequences entire human genomes as a service to researchers, said this week it has put another 29 complete human genome sequences into a public repository for scientists and students. If the company is lucky, this might be as popular with grad students as the occasional free slice of pizza at a late-night lab session.

—New drugs and medical devices may get most of the headlines, but the action in healthcare is actually going more toward the delivery side of this $2.5 trillion annual industry, according to Anne DeGheest. I spoke with DeGheest about this thesis, and how she has rallied interest in a new Silicon Valley angel investing network called HealthTech Capital, which is focusing on cost-effective healthcare delivery that it hopes will play well in the new era of healthcare reform.

—Menlo Park, CA-based Optivia Biotechnology snagged a $1.85 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research program. While that’s usually not enough money to make news, it struck me as interesting because the money is going toward a big project, conducted with help from UCSF, to study mysterious drug interactions in the liver and kidneys—which often cause safety problems that trip up many drugs years after they reach the market.

—South San Francisco-based Sunesis Pharamceuticals (NASDAQ: SNSS) formed a new collaboration with Cambridge, MA-based Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company to develop cancer drugs, after a former partner, Biogen Idec, decided to shift most of its attention to new treatments for neurological disorders, not cancer.

—Richmond, CA-based Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ: SGMO) said this week it had formed a partnership with the CHDI Foundation to begin a new program to develop drugs aimed at a specific gene linked to Huntington’s disease. Sangamo, which I profiled here in October, said later that it is raising a new round of financing as well, through the sale of 6.7 million new shares.

—Palo Alto, CA-based CollabRx, a developer of web-based applications to connect cancer patients and physicians, said this week it has formed a new collaboration with the biggest association of cancer docs—the American Society of Clinical Oncology. ASCO will make an app from CollabRx available to its 30,000 members. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

—In this week’s BioBeat column, I challenged a few more entrepreneurs to step up and go after the development of new antibiotics. A few companies have had some painful setbacks in the past couple years, but this week antibiotic developers got some good news when San Diego-based Optimer Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OPTR) sailed through an FDA advisory panel with its new antibiotic for dangerous hospital-based infections.

—And lastly, my Xconomy colleague Wade Roush and I would like to invite you to come on over to our San Francisco office for an open house at 5 pm on April 18th. Hope to see you there.

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