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Amylin Dissidents Win Board Seats, Targeted Genetics’ Troubles Raise Gene Therapy Concerns, Celladon Eyes Partnership, & More San Diego Life Sciences News

Xconomy San Diego — 

The big news in the San Diego biotech community this week came from the boardroom instead of the laboratory. Dissident shareholder factions elected representatives to the boards of both San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN)and Biogen Idec, the Cambridge, MA, biotech that has a significant local presence.

Amylin’s founding CEO Howard “Ted” Greene, who also is the company’s biggest individual shareholder, may have played a key role in influencing the recent board election. Greene told me he’s optimistic about the outcome, in which a dissident faction of Amylin shareholders gained two board seats and ousted the chairman and lead outside director.

—Meanwhile, in Cambridge, MA, representatives of billionaire investor Carl Icahn claimed victory yesterday in their proxy contest with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) by winning two of four board seats in a recent shareholder election. The company adjourned the annual shareholder meeting without announcing the official results, however.

[Editors note: A previous version of the Targeted Genetics item incorrectly reported that Robin Ali presented results of his research in San Diego.  He did not attend the meeting]

—The potential loss of Seattle’s Targeted Genetics (NASDAQ: TGEN), which is struggling to avoid bankruptcy, will make it harder to bring new gene therapy treatments to market, according to Robin Ali, a University College London researcher.  At the American Society of Gene Therapy meeting in San Diego last week, a colleague of Ali’s presented clinical trial results from Ali’s experimental gene therapy treatment for a rare, genetic form of blindness that was supported by Targeted Genetics. “If they were to close,” Ali told Xconomy’s Denise Gellene by email, “it would leave a gap in the market that would take time to fill.”

—Celladon CEO Krisztina M. Zsebo told Denise at the American Society of Gene Therapy annual meeting that the San Diego gene therapy startup is in discussions with several pharmaceutical companies and expects to announce a development partner in the near future. Celladon has enrolled about half the patients it needs for a mid-stage trial of its gene therapy for heart failure.

—San Diego’s Senomyx (NASDAQ: SNMX), which uses biotechnology tools to develop compounds that enhance or block key flavors, says one of its corporate partners is expected to begin commercializing one of its sweet flavor enhancers later this year. Senomyx CEO Kent Snyder told me that Firmenich, the Swiss flavor and perfume company, plans to launch S2383, a molecule his company developed to enhance the taste of sucralose, the sweetener used in Splenda. Snyder also said Senomyx has more flavor ingredients in its development pipeline.

—Raj Krishnan, a bioengineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego, has won three first-place awards in graduate research competitions this year for his work in developing a new early stage cancer-screening test. Topping that, Krishnan and fellow UCSD graduate students David Charlot and Roy Lefkowitz, won the $40,000 first prize in the annual UCSD Entrepreneur Challenge business plan competition for Biological Dynamics, the startup Krishnan founded to develop his diagnostic technology.

Novocell, a San Diego stem cell engineering startup, received its second U.S. patent covering the use of endoderm cells derived from human embryonic stem cells for drug discovery. The technology represents a potential stem cell treatment for diabetes. As Luke reported, the strength of Novocell’s intellectual property is one of the things that led CEO John West to join the company a month ago.