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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Arena, Frazier, Kura, and Theranos

Xconomy San Diego — 

Palo Alto, CA-based Theranos continued its counter-offensive this week, as the private medical laboratory services company sought to rebut questions The Wall Street Journal has raised about the accuracy and reliability of its diagnostic technology.

After appearing last week at the Wall Street Journal Digital Live conference in Laguna Beach, CA, Theranos chairwoman and CEO Elizabeth Holmes went onstage in Cleveland Monday evening to say the company would publish data in support of its tests. “Data is a powerful thing because it speaks for itself,” she said at the Medical Innovation Summit in Cleveland, according to an account by Andy Pollock of The New York Times.

Holmes’ efforts in crisis communications were a new role for the Theranos CEO, who has had a storybook career since 2003, when she dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to found the company around microfluidic blood-testing technology that requires only a few drops of blood. Theranos has claimed its technology can rapidly perform a wide range of medical tests at lower cost than conventional tests that require several vials of blood.

Theranos also moved this week to address corporate governance concerns, saying it has restructured its corporate board from 12 members to five, and created two advisory boards. We’ll continue to track this saga, but in the meantime, here is our roundup of other West Coast life sciences news:

—San Diego’s Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) said it plans to shelve some clinical trials related to lorcaserin (Belviq), its flagship weight-loss drug, and lay off about 80 employees, or 35 percent of its U.S. workforce. The cuts would lower Arena’s operating costs by about $11 million annually. But more belt-tightening may be needed. In its most-recent quarterly filing, Arena reported $9.2 million in second-quarter sales of Belviq, but the company spent $24.2 million on R&D and another $8.8 million on general and administrative expenses. That worked out to a second-quarter net loss of $26.8 million.

—Frazier Healthcare Partners has a new pool of cash to invest, after closing on a $262 million fund that it will begin to deploy in 2016. Frazier managing partner Jamie Topper told Xconomy the new fund, Frazier Life Sciences VIII, will focus solely on therapeutics companies, with half to two-thirds of the capital earmarked for seed or Series A rounds.

—Kura Oncology, which filed for an $86 million IPO on October 20th, disclosed its terms Wednesday in an updated regulatory filing. Kura, which already trades over the counter, now plans to raise $60 million by offering 3.75 million shares at $16 as part of its move to Nasdaq. At the proposed price, Kura would be valued at about $359 million, according to Renaissance Capital.

—UC San Diego unveiled a new campus-wide research initiative focused on the millions of microbes that live symbiotically in the human gut and on skin, just as two … Next Page »

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