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San Diego Life Sciences Roundup: Arena, Organovo, Isis, & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

[Corrected 6/15/13, 11:45 pm. See below.] It seemed to be a week of positive news for San Diego’s life sciences community. We have the details wrapped up here.

CalBio 2013 convened at the San Diego Convention Center yesterday with an opening keynote talk by J. Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer and founding CEO of San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics. In response to a question about the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to prohibit patents on naturally occurring genes, Venter said, “It sort of reaffirms what all of us thought was the situation, which is that naturally occurring DNA, natural human genome sequences, natural genes, are not patentable material.” Venter called the ruling, which says synthetically created DNA strands are patent-eligible, “a very positive position for the biotech industry.” The conference ends today.

—San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) began marketing lorcaserin hydrochloride (the long-awaited weight-loss drug known as Belviq) this week, with the help of Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai. Arena submitted its new drug application for the compound in 2009. Arena said it has received $65 million in milestone payments from Eisai and is eligible to get almost $1.2 billion in purchase price adjustments and other payments based on annual net sales of the drug. Eisai has estimated that Belviq sales could amount to $150 million over the next six months.

—[Corrects spelling of Tamar Howson] San Diego’s Organovo, which has been developing technology for a 3-D bioprinter, said a couple of recent changes on its board has made the company eligible to move from the over-the counter-market to a listing on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. The company named Tamar Howson, a well-known pharma business development executive, as a board member. Organovo also said that SternAegis Ventures CEO Adam Stern, who joined the board in early 2012, had resigned—leaving a majority of directors classified as independent.

—As a case study in frugality, San Diego’s Orphagen Pharmaceuticals has run counter to the conventional business model for a drug development startup. Instead of raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fund R&D for drugs that target orphan receptors, Orphagen has scraped by on federal grants and one crucial pharmaceutical partnership.

Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) of Carlsbad, CA, said Vancouver, BC-based Xenon Pharmaceuticals has exercised an option to an exclusive worldwide license for XEN701, an antisense drug candidate intended to suppress the production of hepcidin, the peptide hormone (produced by the liver) that helps to regulate iron levels in the blood, anemia, and the body’s inflammatory response. The move triggers a $2 million payment from Xenon, which plans to develop the drug for patients with chronic kidney disease.

—Carlsbad, CA-based Life Technologies (NASDAQ: LIFE) said it has acquired Life Science Korea (LSK), a leading instrument distributor based in Seoul, South Korea. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Life Technologies, which is itself being acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific of Waltham, MA, in a $13.6 billion deal announced in April, said the LSK acquisition dovetails with its purchase of consumables distributor KDR and is part of the company’s strategy to sell directly to consumers in South Korea.

—San Diego’s Oberon Fuels, which has technology to produce a cleaner-burning alternative to diesel fuel, said it received a $500,000 grant from California’s San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to produce fuel-grade dimethyl ether (DME) at its small-scale production facility in Brawley, CA. Beginning this month, Oberon said its plant initially will produce 4,500 gallons of DME per day, which will be used in field trials by two heavy-duty Volvo trucks driven by Safeway. Until Oberon developed its new technology for DME production, the company said the fuel was too expensive for use as a transportation fuel in North America.

Domain Associates, the venture capital firm that specializes in life sciences investments, said Nimesh Shah has been promoted to partner in the firm’s San Diego office. Shah joined Domain in 2006. He is a co-founder and board member of Zyga Technology, and on the board of Benvenue Medical, Cotera, Miramar Labs, Sequent Medical, and Twelve (Foundry Newco VII). He also serves as a board observer at NeuroPace, ReVision Optics, and Tandem Diabetes Care.