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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Adaptive, Synthorx, USC v. UCSD, 23andMe

Xconomy San Diego — 

The West Coast, according to the self-aggrandizing myth, is a place of re-invention, non-conformism, un-convention. You see this box, man? Our brains are over here, thinking outside of it. It’s all good. Just ask Don Draper.

Sometimes it just leads to a new Coke commercial, at least in Mad Men’s retelling of the tale, but sometimes it leads to entirely new industries devoted to, um, social isolation and distracted driving.

Hey, let’s not let the tech folks have all the boundary-breaking fun. In West Coast biotech this week, the news indeed featured business-expanding, if not mind-expanding, moves. In Seattle, Adaptive Biotechnologies served notice it would move beyond immune sequencing for research and diagnostics and into drug discovery, spurred by its massive fundraise this spring and new sequencing technology. It was reminiscent of a similar business shift in the San Francisco Bay Area, where genomic test maker 23andMe said in March it would start a drug R&D group run by former Genentech top scientist Richard Scheller.

(With the way the FDA is approving drugs these days, as Forbes‘ Matthew Herper points out this week, who wouldn’t want to be in that  business?)

This week, 23andMe unveiled a new CFO as it moves into this new phase. The man behind the green eyeshade will be Dean Schorno, who was previously CFO of—wait for it—Adaptive.

In San Diego, sequencing giant Illumina and two VCs unveiled plans to open a genomic app store called Helix. The idea is to offer average Joes and Janes apps that shed light on their genetic makeup. Third-party developers would build the software, and Helix would do the sequencing and store the information, ostensibly making it easier and faster for consumers to come back and order more apps. Antonio Regalado has a thorough explanation of it in Technology Review.

That’s a lot of thinking outside the box for one week, but it helps compensate for the time we’ll have to spend hiding under the box when El Niño hits. Meanwhile, keep calm and get your roundup on.

—Adaptive Biotechnologies of Seattle said Wednesday that a new sequencing tool would give the firm a leg up in helping cancer immunotherapy companies develop better therapies that use modified T cells. Adaptive’s CEO and CSO—brothers Chad and Harlan Robins—also told Xconomy that the company will build its own pipeline of therapeutics for infectious disease. The tool, pairSEQ, was described in a Science Translational Medicine paper.

—Staying in Seattle, Presage Biosciences said Thursday that Takeda Ventures has taken a stake of undisclosed size in the privately held company, which is developing a system dubbed CIVO that aims to test cancer drugs in miniscule amounts by injecting them directly into a patient’s tumor. It’s at least the second time a drug company working with Presage’s technology has invested in Presage, as well. Two years ago, Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) invested $13 million. Xconomy reported in April that Presage had begun its first human trials of CIVO.

—In the Bay Area, genomic data firm 23andMe said Dean Schorno would be the firm’s new CFO. Schorno was previous CFO of Adaptive Bio for a year, and before that spent more than a decade at Genomic Health.

—In Berkeley, CA, the nonprofit Innovative Genomics Institute is working with Children’s Hospital in neighboring Oakland on sickle cell disease research that could signal an important step forward for the new gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9. In my latest column, I reported on IGI’s work and on other developments in the all-too-thin field of options for sickle cell treatment.

—San Diego’s Synthorx said it has coaxed bacteria to produce proteins not found in nature, using synthetic DNA inserted into the cellular nucleii. As our own Bruce Bigelow reported, the company’s technology could open the way for new methods of producing biologic drugs. SynthoRx is based on technology developed by Floyd Romesberg of The Scripps Research Institute.

—Another Bigelow cup of tea: Bruce reported Wednesday that the University of Southern California has made a surprise move in its legal fight with UC San Diego, firing its law firm and asking that the case be moved to federal court. The schools are fighting over control of an Alzheimer’s … Next Page »

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