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San Diego Life Sciences News: Trius, Optimer, aTyr, Ligand, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

It’s been a week of big deals for San Diego’s life sciences sector. I also got an update on Connect CEO Duane Roth, who remains hospitalized with a head injury.

—Lexington, MA-based Cubist (NASDAQ: CBST) agreed to pay over $1.2 billion to buy San Diego’s Trius Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TSRX) and Optimer Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: OPTR), which moved its headquarters from San Diego to Jersey City, NJ late last year. Optimer has an FDA-approved antibiotic, fidaxomicin (Dificid) for treating C. difficile-related intestinal infections that are problematic at hospitals and nursing homes. Trius is nearing FDA approval for an antibiotic that treats MRSA, another antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection often acquired in hospitals. Cubist agreed to pay $707 million for Trius, and $535 million to buy Optimer.

Domain Associates, the life sciences venture firm based in San Diego and Princeton, NJ, and Rusnano Mednvest, a subsidiary of the Russian state technology developer Rusnano, joined with other venture investors to sink $55 million in ReVision Optics, a Lake Forest, CA-ophthalmic company. Since Domain and Rusnano formed a partnership last year, they have participated in five U.S. funding deals that totaled $173 million, including investments in San Diego-based Lithera and CoDa Therapeutics.

—San Diego-based aTyr Pharma said it has raised $59 million in a combination of new equity and debt financing. ATyr plans to use the proceeds to stage multiple human proof-of-concept trials of drugs based on a new class of natural proteins called “physiocrines” in treating a variety of auto-immune disorders. Instead of blocking or inhibiting target molecules, physiocrines modulate the body’s natural immune response. ATyr says physicrines offer advantages to existing anti-inflammatory drugs through better selectivity, efficacy, and reduced side effects

Duane Roth, the Connect CEO and former San Diego pharmaceutical executive, remains in intensive care at the UC San Diego Medical Center more than a week after he sustained a head injury while bicycling in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego. MRI diagnostic imaging showed no apparent brain damage, but he remains sedated, according to his brother, Ted Roth. While doctors see nothing that would prevent Duane Roth from a good recovery, Ted Roth told me by phone yesterday his caregivers are moving slowly to give him time to heal.

—A pre-clinical trial of a gene therapy treatment that uses a nebulizer-like inhaler to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension is breathing new life into San Diego-based Celladon. The company said research done by scientists at the Cardiovascular Research Center at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai showed that a deadly condition known as pulmonary arterial hypertension might be reversible by using an inhalable form of Celladon’s gene therapy product candidate. The study was published in the July 30 issue of the journal Circulation.

Sapphire Energy, the industrial biotech developing algae biofuel technology, has paid off the entire $54.5 million loan guarantee awarded to the company by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009. Sapphire said it used the financing to develop its Columbus, NM-based “Green Crude Farm” to produce renewable crude oil—and completed the project “on time and on budget.”

—San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) said it expects to receive $2.7 million in potential development and regulatory milestone payments after licensing a new oral formulation of lasofoxifene to Azure Biotech. Ligand says it also stands to receive a 5 percent royalty on future net sales, and has retained rights to the drug originally developed by Pfizer.

—San Diego-based Trovagene (NASDAQ: TROV) said it closed a private sale of its common stock to an unidentified institutional investor, which generated gross proceeds of $15 million for the company, which has been developing molecular diagnostics technology. In a separate statement, Trovagene said it has adopted a digital a gene-sequencing system developed by RainDance Technologies of Billerica, MA, for eventual use in its CLIA laboratory.

—San Diego-based Medistem said it has entered into a collaboration with Reza Abdi, a kidney transplant specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Medistem will provide its Endometrial Regenerative Cells (ERCs) for Abdi’s research, which is expected to support FDA clearance to initiate clinical trials to use ERCs as a treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. The company said it currently has FDA clearance to initiate an early stage trial to use ERCs in patients with critical limb ischemia, a complication of diabetes.

—The price of shares in San Diego-based Sequenom (NASDAQ: SQNM) plunged by more than a third, to $3.30 from $4.69 a share, after the medical diagnostics specialist reported lower-than-expected revenue of $34.9 million and a bigger-than expected loss of $31 million in the second quarter. The company said a change in how it bills for diagnostic services led to a backup in accounts receivables, or money owed, for business transactions that had been booked.