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San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: IPOs, ResMed, Ventrix, CovX, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Last week, there was only a trickle of life sciences news out of San Diego. This week the dam broke, and there’s a lot of news—including two IPO filings by San Diego biotechs.

—San Diego’s Sophiris Bio, a startup developing a new drug treatment for benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate, plans to raise almost $75 million through an initial public offering. Sophiris plans to use the proceeds to begin two pivotal trials of its drug, a genetically modified recombinant protein, with the first study scheduled to begin by mid-year.

After dropping plans for an $86 million IPO two years ago, San Diego’s Ambit Biosciences is back again. The biopharmaceutical, focused on kinase-inhibiting drugs for cancer, autoimmune, and inflammatory diseases, hopes to raise $57.5 million, according to a regulatory filing. Ambit’s lead drug candidate, quizartinib, is under clinical development in patients with relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and in newly diagnosed AML patients.

—Saying “Our society needs more heroes who are scientists and researchers and engineers,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and other high-tech leaders named the first 11 recipients of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. The inaugural list includes Napoleone Ferrara, senior deputy director for basic sciences at the University of California San Diego Moores Cancer Center. The prize comes with a $3 million cash award for each recipient.

—Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) said it is closing one of its R&D sites, which the world’s largest pharmaceutical company created in San Diego with its acquisition of CovX in late 2007. A Pfizer spokeswoman confirmed the CovX closure, which affects about 100 staffers, to Fierce Biotech and U-T San Diego. CovX specializes in drugs that combine a bioactive peptide, such as oxytocin or leptin, with an antibody.

Ventrix, a San Diego startup founded in 2009, said it plans to begin its first human clinical trial later this year after its VentriGel material safely and effectively improved cardiac function in pigs following a heart attack. The company reported its preclinical findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine. A spokeswoman for the company said Ventrix, which has seven employees and consultants, raised $5 million last year in a Series A round funded by private investors.

—Following a flurry of innovation in high-speed DNA sequencing, Luke reported that San Carlos, CA-based Natera is the latest of four companies to offer a simple, noninvasive, maternal blood test for prenatal genetic screening. Natera’s diagnostic test is going up against competing services from San Diego-based Sequenom (NASDAQ: SQNM) and Illumina’s Verinata unit (NASDAQ: ILMN), as well as San Jose, CA-based Ariosa Diagnostics.

—San Diego-based Santarus (NASDAQ: SNTS) said it began U.S. sales of its extended release drug for treating patients with ulcerative colitis. Santarus combined the steroid drug budesonide with drug delivery technology that releases budesonide along the length of the colon. The drug, marketed as Uceris, won FDA approval in January.

—Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: ISIS) said it earned a $7.5 million milestone payment from GlaxoSmithKline. Isis said the milestone payment came after the partners began a mid-stage clinical study of ISIS-TTRRx, an antisense drug in development for the treatment of transthyretin or TTR amyloidosis, a severe and rare genetic disease characterized by progressive dysfunction of peripheral nerve and/or heart tissues.

—Following the lead set by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs in 2005, Carlsbad, CA-based ResMed (NYSE: RMD) said founder Peter Farrell is resigning as chief executive so that his son, Michael “Mick” Farrell, can take over as CEO on March 1. Peter Farrell will stay on as executive chairman until the end of 2013, when he plans to take a less active role as non-executive chairman. Jacobs’s third-eldest son Paul succeeded him as Qualcomm CEO. Paul Jacobs added the chairman’s role in 2009.

—San Diego-based Sanitas said the FDA has cleared Wellaho, its Web and mobile platform, as a class II medical device for supporting outpatients who are chronically ill. Sanitas founder Naser Partovi said Wellaho serves as a secure Web-based platform for gathering vital signs and other information from patients who are dealing with long-term health issues.