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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Adaptive, Gilead, Juno, aTyr & More

Xconomy Boston — 

[Corrected 5/8/15, 6:48 pm. See below.] Out west this week there was news, there was an event, and there was coincidence. It just happened that two executives who spoke at Xconomy’s annual Seattle biotech forum Wednesday represented local companies, Adaptive Biotechnologies and Juno Therapeutics, in this week’s news. (Xconomy Seattle editor Ben Romano was there to take photos and notes, and he has already posted the slideshow of the event.)

While everyone in Seattle was public speaking, a couple companies made public debuts: San Diego’s aTyr Pharma held an IPO, and the Bay Area’s Tobira Therapeutics completed a reverse merger. Now let’s take it out of reverse and into high gear. To the roundup!

—Adaptive gets the pole position this week with news of a $195 million round of funding, bringing its total since the start of 2014 to roughly $400 million. The privately held Seattle firm makes a sequencing test used by drug developers and researchers to better understand the immune system’s role in cancer and other diseases. But it has grander designs and said it will use the cash in a push toward becoming more of an information broker and R&D partner to drug companies, not just a diagnostics provider.

—Shares of San Diego-based aTyr Pharma (NASDAQ: LIFE) gained a few cents Thursday after the company raised $75 million in its IPO, selling nearly 5.4 million shares at $14 each. More than half of the cash is intended to advance aTyr’s development of lead drug Resolaris, a treatment for facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a genetically based degeneration of muscles in the face, shoulder blades, and upper arms.

—San Diego’s Aethlon Medical withdrew its IPO filing on Monday, citing “market conditions and for broader strategic reasons.” Aethlon has been working to advance its Hemopurifier, a bio-filtration device used in dialysis-like treatments to collect viruses and cancer-related exosomes from a patient’s blood. (Aethlon said in November its technology was used to treat a Ugandan doctor who was stricken with Ebola.) The company filed for an IPO on April 17.

—Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ ISIS) partnered with Germany’s Bayer HealthCare to advance development of its antisense anticoagulant drug, ISIS-FXIRx. Isis got $100 million upfront and could get another $55 million based on certain study results, plus milestone fees and royalties. Isis wrapped up a mid-stage trial last year testing ISIS-FXIRx in patients undergoing total knee replacement surgery.

—Juno (NASDAQ: JUNO) of Seattle said Wednesday it has partnered with San Diego’s Fate Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FATE) to develop small molecules that might boost the effects of Juno’s experimental cellular immunotherapies. Juno is paying Fate $5 million upfront cash plus another $8 million to buy 1 million Fate shares.

—Tobira (NASDAQ: TBRA) of South San Francisco, CA, finalized a reverse merger to go public, using the shell of Regado Biosciences, whose massive Phase 3 trial for an anticoagulant drug failed last summer. Tobira announced the merger plan in January and raised $22 million at the same time. It now has $70 million to push ahead with its Phase 2 liver disease drug.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, said Wednesday it has bought Denmark’s EpiTherapeutics, a developer of small molecule drugs that aim to fight cancer by manipulating the genetic switches inside cancer cells, an approach known as epigenetics. The firm has yet to take a drug into clinical trials. Gilead will pay approximately $65 million in cash.

—Redwood City, CA-based AcelRx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACRX) on Monday said the FDA has reinforced its view that the company needs to conduct another late-stage clinical trial for its pain treatment Zalviso (sufentanil). Shares dropped 28 percent.

—The recent unexpected departures of chairman and CEO Alex Lukianov and COO Keith Valentine from San Diego’s NuVasive (NASDAQ: NUVA) didn’t hold back earnings or revenue at the spinal implant maker. Nuvasive exceeded analysts’ estimates with first-quarter earnings of 30 cents a share on revenue of $192.4 million. In a conference call with analysts, interim CEO Greg Lucier outlined the cleanup of multiple legal issues and charted the company’s strategy going forward.

—Prothena (NASDAQ: PRTA), an Irish domiciled company with R&D operations in South San Francisco, said Monday it would work with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to find biomarkers and develop tests to help measure the advance of Parkinson’s disease.

—Seattle biotech Acucela (OTCMKTS: AUCL) had a big change at the top. Shareholders voted in a new board, and the new board promptly returned Ryo Kubota to the CEO post. Kubota was cut loose by the previous board in December. [A previous version of this item misspelled Kubota’s first name.]

—Xconomy San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow contributed to this report.

—Downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainier photo courtesy of Tiffany Von Arnim via a Creative Commons license.