San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Zogenix, Isis, Cellana, and More

Much of the life sciences news this week was coming out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago. Yet San Diego somehow managed to generate a lot of other news as well.

—Finland’s Biotie Therapies said it has an exclusive option to acquire San Diego’s Neurelis, a biotech that specializes in developing drugs for treating epilepsy and other disorders of the central nervous system. The two companies agreed to collaborate in the development of Neurelis’s lead drug candidate, a proprietary formulation of diazepam to be delivered by a nasal sprayer for treating seizures. As part of the deal, Biotie said it would pay $1 million for an exclusive option to acquire all outstanding Neurelis shares. Biotie would pay an additional $8.75 million if it decides to exercise the option.

—San Diego-based Zogenix (NASDAQ: ZGNX) cut its headcount by more than a third to extend its cash while it waits for the FDA to act on the company’s new drug application for its extended release formulation of hydrocodone bitartrate (Zohydro). Zogenix said the cutbacks would eliminate 55 full-time-equivalent employees (out of a workforce of 148 people).

—San Diego’s BioNano Genomics said it is presenting results of its new Irys System technology in Paris this weekend at the European Human Genetics Conference. The company says its genetic sequencing technology uses much longer strands of DNA than conventional DNA sequencing equipment, enabling scientists to prepare “de novo” maps of human genomes. BioNano Genomics says technologies that can sequence only short DNA strands aren’t good at determining precise variations in genomes, such as multiple repeats or translocations. The company says its de novo maps are proving to be crucial to fully characterize genomes.

—Finland’s Neste Oil, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel, said it has signed a contingent commercial off-take agreement with Cellana, an algae biofuels developer based in San Diego and Kona, HI. The new partners said their deal would enable Neste Oil to purchase green crude made from algae by Cellana in the future. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

—Carlsbad-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) said it received a $10 million milestone payment from London-based AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical giant decided to expand their cancer drug collaboration. Isis also said underwriters of its recent secondary stock offering exercised their options to buy 617,869 more shares of Isis common stock—increasing total proceeds from the offering to about $182.7 million.

—In other cancer news, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) wrapped up its annual meeting in Chicago. In a roundup of news out of the meeting, Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman noted that San Diego’s Halozyme Therapeutics is developing an experimental biologic drug called PEGPH20 for use in combination with a standard chemo drug, gemcitabine. The Halozyme drug is supposed to eat away at a protective matrix made up of hyaluronan, which encases pancreatic tumors and makes it hard for the chemotherapy to sink deeply into the tumor and kill the fast-dividing cancer cells.

—San Diego-based Arcturus Therapeutics, an early stage startup developing new drugs based on RNA interference (RNAi) technology, said it raised $1.3 million in seed funding from angel investors. Founders Joseph Payne and Pad Chivukula said Arcturus is the fifth RNAi specialist to establish operations in the San Diego area. “It’s kind of turning into a hub for this kind of technology,” says Payne, the Arcturus CEO.

—San Diego’s Qualcomm Life, UC San Diego’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), and the industry group Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance are among 10 organizations that have joined forces to help app developers in the field. Organizers said the goal of their “Catalyst Initiative” is to knock down the technological barriers that are impeding the broad adoption of wireless health. Other members of the coalition are Kaiser Permanente, the Continua Alliance, Entra Health Systems, FoodCare,, TicTrac, and WellTok.

—A biotech center for “biohackers” plans to hold its grand opening next month in Carlsbad, CA, but Brad Fikes of U-T San Diego reports that the 6,000-square-foot facility on Faraday Avenue has a long way to go before it can be used as a biotech incubator and science education center. In February, the Carlsbad City Council approved plans to lease the city-owned property on favorable terms to Bio, Tech and Beyond, the organization managing the facility. Organizers plan to rent lab space at low cost to biotech entrepreneurs.

Biocom president and CEO Joe Panetta, local business leaders, and others from the San Diego World Trade Center, spent the week in Japan on a trade mission with other San Diego business leaders. Panetta sent dispatches to U-T San Diego throughout the visit. During a meeting with the Japan Bioindustry Association (JBA), Panetta wrote that both sides saw good reasons to collaborate at the JBA meeting in Yokohama this fall, and at Biocom’s global partnering conference next spring.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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