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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Bock, Celladon, Arivale, Conkwest & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

It was a big week across the nation for Xconomy’s biotech coverage. We launched Exome, a redesigned site with more stories, livelier graphics, and other features to give readers a more comprehensive snapshot of the day’s health, biotech, and life sciences news. We’ve had great feedback from readers so far; please keep it coming. If you promise you’re not a spambot, you can email me at alash at xconomy, or you can send a tweet to @alexlash.

One West Coast highlight of our launch week coverage was a profile of a San Diego biotech investor, Larry Bock, by Xconomy San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow. Up in Seattle, the Institute for Systems Biology spun out a new kind of health company called Arivale. And LA biotech billionaire (and part Laker owner) Patrick Soon-Shiong is steering one of his conglomerate’s companies, Conkwest, toward a potentially massive IPO. Let’s get to the roundup.

—San Diego gene therapy developer Celladon (NASDAQ: CLDN) continued its descent, confirming it would end its R&D programs and look for a buyer, or perhaps be forced to liquidate. The white flag comes two months after its cardiovascular treatment Mydicar crashed in a Phase 2b trial.

—Xconomy San Diego Editor Bruce Bigelow profiled Larry Bock, who is one of San Diego’ most successful life sciences investors, and who has been legally blind for the past 36 years. Bock has joined forces with a couple of San Diego entrepreneurs to form Aira.io, an online startup developing new visual services for the blind.

—I reported last Friday the news of Arivale’s imminent launch. The wellness startup is based on the early work of the ISB’s 100K Wellness Project, which aims to build comprehensive health profiles of its volunteers with the help of the latest technology. Arivale will be a for-profit version, and the Seattle tech site Geekwire had a comprehensive report from the company’s launch party Monday.

—Patrick Soon-Shiong, who developed and sold cancer companies such as Abraxis Biosciences for billions of dollars, is using his wealth to build a sprawling biotech and health conglomerate. One piece of it, an immunotherapy company called Conkwest, filed paperwork to go public, setting an early goal of raising $172.5 million.

—San Diego startup Ankasa Regenerative Therapeutics said it received half of a planned $17 million Series A round led by Avalon Ventures. Germany’s Heraeus Medical and San Diego’s Correlation Ventures also participated. The company has been developing WNT3A, a growth factor to stimulate stem cells, in bone and tissue repair applications.

—Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE) of Santa Monica, CA, partnered with Cambridge, MA-based Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) to combine Bluebird’s gene therapy and gene editing technologies with Kite’s cellular immunotherapy techniques. The goal is to develop therapies for human papillomavirus-associated cancers.

—San Diego-based Ambrx, which has been developing a line of protein therapeutics that includes antibody-drug conjugates, said it recently closed a merger with a Chinese consortium with ties to the Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, HOPU Investments, China Everbright’s healthcare fund, and WuXi PharmaTech. Ambrx said it now has resources to advance its pipeline at its U.S. research center and build a new global product development center in China.

—San Diego real estate developer Conrad Prebys gave $100 million to the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, which renamed itself the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. The donation will enable the institute to advance its laboratory discoveries and clinic-ready drug candidates.

—Drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) said it would move 40 jobs from Seattle as part of a nationwide R&D reshuffle.

—San Diego-based Organovo Holdings (NYSE: ONVO) plans to raise more than $40 million by selling 9.4 million shares. The company granted underwriters a 30-day option to buy an additional 1.4 million shares.

—EY, the accounting and services firm previously known as Ernst & Young, named Rich Heyman, the CEO of both Seragon Pharmaceuticals and Aragon Pharmaceuticals, the San Diego 2015 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in biotechnology and technology. National winners will be announced Nov. 14 at EY’s annual awards gala in Palm Springs, CA.