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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Gilead, Adicet, Otonomy, Fate & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

The only major Republican presidential candidate who didn’t show up for last night’s debate was front-runner Donald Trump. He also made national news this week by announcing his intent to let Medicare negotiate drug prices—a distinctly un-GOP-like position.

The drug-price debate reverberated on the West Coast, too, as the Massachusetts attorney general threatened California’s Gilead Sciences over the cost of its hepatitis C drugs. Another way to bring down drug prices: Develop cheaper versions of expensive biologic drugs. On that front, the FDA said it would give Amgen a yea or nay decision by late September whether to allow its knockoff of the world’s best-selling drug come to market.

Before you knock off for the weekend, how about a quick look back at the week? Let’s get to the roundup.

—Former Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE) CEO Aya Jakobovits launched Adicet Bio, a new Menlo Park, CA-based startup developing immunotherapies for cancer and other diseases. The company has raised $51 million from OrbiMed Advisors, where Jakobovits is a venture partner, Novartis Venture Fund, and Pontifax, and has acquired Israel’s Applied Immune Technologies. Adicet will use the Israeli company’s antibody technology to modify human immune cells to attack tumors by latching onto protein fragments on the tumor cell surface.

—A new front opened this week in the campaign to combat high drug prices. The Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey threatened legal action against Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) over the high price of its hepatitis C medicines. In a letter made public Wednesday, Healey wrote that the high price of Sovaldi ($84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment) and Harvoni ($94,500) “may constitute an unfair trade practice in violation of Massachusetts law.”

—Gilead also saw a change at the top. John Martin, CEO for two decades, will become executive chairman and his longtime right-hand man, COO John Milligan, will take over as CEO.

—Biopharma consultant and former Xconomist columnist Stewart Lyman weighed in this week on the drug pricing fight with this essay on his website. You can read Lyman’s Xconomy commentaries on drug pricing here and here.

—Beleaguered diagnostics firm Theranos of Palo Alto, CA, ran into more trouble this week. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal inspectors found serious problems at the Theranos blood-test laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area. The pharmacy chain Walgreens, an early partner of Theranos, then said it would not allow blood tests performed at its stores to be analyzed in the Theranos Bay Area lab. Walgreens also said it would stop offering the testing service at its Palo Alto store. Theranos also has a lab facility in Arizona, where Walgreens stores continue to offer Theranos tests.

Human Longevity, the San Diego startup founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter and Robert Hariri, has agreed to buy LifebankUSA, a specialist in placental and umbilical cord blood banking and its related biomaterials business. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

—Otonomy (NASDAQ: OTIC), the San Diego firm developing treatments for diseases and disorders of the ear, said its injectable drug candidate for treating Ménière’s disease, OTO-104, also could protect cancer patients from hearing loss caused by certain chemotherapy treatments. According to Otonomy, hearing loss has been reported in up to 90 percent of children and young adults who are treated with platinum-based chemotherapies like cisplatin. Otonomy said it expects to begin a Phase 2 feasibility trial of OTO-104 at cancer centers later this year.

—MannKind (NASDAQ: MNKD), the Valencia, CA-based maker of an inhalable insulin treatment with disappointing sales, has been working with investment bankers on strategic options that could include a possible sale, according to a Reuters report that cited unnamed sources.

—The FDA accepted a marketing application from Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) for a biosimilar to adalimumab (Humira), AbbVie’s blockbuster drug for several autoimmune diseases. The agency promised to … Next Page »

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