Raleigh-Durham Roundup: Appia, Chimerix, Ascletis & More

Here are this week’s headlines in North Carolina technology and biotechnology news:

—Appia, a Durham, NC, company that markets mobile apps online, is being acquired by Mandalay Digital Group (NASDAQ: MNDL) in a stock deal that values Appia at $65 million. Los Angeles, CA-based Mandalay Digital will also assume $10 million of Appia’s debt, as well as transaction fees and expenses.

Appia runs online marketplaces that bring visibility to mobile apps; the company says its network has driven more than 85 million app installs worldwide. Appia is paid each time an app is installed and draws additional revenue from advertising in the marketplaces. For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, Appia had $30 million in revenue, according to Mandalay’s documents.

Mandalay’s mobile business, Digital Turbine, provides mobile content, such as games, music, and eBooks for wireless carriers. Mandalay CEO Bill Stone told Gigaom that while Appia has a large developer and advertiser network, Mandalay has relationships with carriers worldwide, and the combination would offer carriers a powerful marketing network. When the acquisition is complete, the combined company will be known as Digital Turbine. The companies expect to close the deal in the first quarter of 2015. Appia founder and CEO Jud Bowman will join Mandalay’s board of directors.

—An antiviral drug from Durham, NC, pharmaceutical company Chimerix (NASDAQ: CMRX) has been selected for testing in an Ebola clinical trial in West Africa. Chimerix’s brincidofovir is one of two drug candidates for the trial, which will be funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by the University of Oxford. Operational support for the clinical trials in West Africa will be provided by Doctors Without Borders, with participation from the World Health Organization and local authorities. In October, the Food and Drug Administration cleared Chimerix to commence clinical testing of brincidofovir in Ebola.

—Research Triangle Park, NC, drug developer Ascletis has licensed development and commercialization rights in China for a hepatitis C drug candidate from Presidio Pharmaceuticals. San Francisco, CA-based Presidio retains the rights to the compound PPI-668 in the rest of the world. Ascletis plans to pair the compound with its own antiviral agent ASC08, which has completed Phase 2 clinical trials. CEO Jinzi Wu says that based on the clinical data so far, the company believes the combination would be an effective way to treat hepatitis patients in China without the side effects of interferon treatments.

Under the agreement, Ascletis will fund clinical development, manufacturing, and commercialization of the hepatitis C drug in China. Presidio will receive up front and development milestone payments, as well as royalties based on Ascletis’s sales of the drug. No other details of the licensing agreement were disclosed.

—Medical device company nContact now has access to $20 million in financing to test a minimally invasive device developed to treat atrial fibrillation. The financing comes from comes from an agreement with Hercules Technology Growth Capital (NYSE: HTGC), a company that specializes in lending to venture capital-backed companies in technology and biotechnology. Morrisville, NC-based nContact did not say whether the Hercules financing is a loan or a line of credit. The clinical trial will compare nContact’s procedure head to head against traditional catheter ablation in the treatment of persistent atrial fibrillation. NContact’s device already has regulatory approval in Europe to treat atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. The clinical trials are for approval of the device in the U.S. market.

—Agricultural biotechnology startup AgBiome disclosed that three of the companies participating in its $17.5 million series A round last year are agribusiness giants Monsanto (NYSE: MON), Syngenta (NYSE: SYT)and Novozymes (NASDAQ OMX: NZYM). Research Triangle Park, NC-based AgBiome has technology to collect, isolate, analyze, and test microbes for use in agriculture. While the company has not disclosed specific crop targets, it has said that the microbes could be used for things such as improving crop yields and controlling pests. Monsanto and Novozymes are also studying agricultural microbials in an R&D and commercialization partnership.

Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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