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West Coast Bio Roundup: Gilead Onco Woes, Adaptive Expansion & More

Xconomy San Diego — 

DiCE Molecules of Redwood City, CA, revealed itself this week with a new drug discovery scheme and a business model straight out of 2010. DiCE CEO Kevin Judice, a veteran of California biotechs that have produced anti-infective drugs, told Xconomy that DiCE would initially fund itself through two big pharma partnerships; the first, a five-year alliance with Sanofi, was unveiled this week. It would then spin out promising drugs into subsidiaries, a so-called asset financing strategy that gained favor during the recession as a way to spread the risk of drug development.

Luke Timmerman has a detailed look at the science behind DiCE (subscription required). More details on the deal are below, along with news about Adaptive Biotechnologies’ new drug-hunting man in San Diego, Gilead Sciences’ bad cancer trial news, a big Seattle-based health system’s adoption of Lee Hood’s precision medicine program, and much more. Let’s get to the roundup.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, felt the scrutiny of drug regulators in the U.S. and Europe after an increase in deaths and other safety problems forced the company to halt trials of its cancer drug idelalisib (Zydelig). The EMEA has begun a review, and the FDA warned doctors about the problems, which occurred in six trials in patients getting treatment for the first time for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, small lymphocytic lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Zydelig has been approved in the U.S. to treat these diseases but only in patients who have tried other treatments and fallen ill again. The news comes after Phillippe Bishop, who was plucked from Genentech in 2014 to lead Gilead’s clinical push into the cancer field, left the company in February, as The Street reported this week.

—10X Genomics of Pleasanton, CA, raised $55 million in a Series C venture round, led by Fidelity, to push ahead with its sequencer upgrade technology. The company makes a box that connects to Illumina machines and provides a better way to interpret short-read sequencing data, its officials say. The round adds to the $80 million in funding 10x announced at its debut last year.

—DiCE Molecules of Redwood City, CA, backed until now by an undisclosed amount of angel funding, debuted this week with a lucrative partnership with Sanofi in place. Sanofi is paying $50 million upfront, some of it for a small slice of DiCE equity, to use DiCE’s drug discovery platform against up to 12 molecular targets. Sanofi could pay DiCE up to $184 million per target. It does not have an option to acquire DiCE. The biotech says it has come up with a system that “evolves” traditional small molecules to solve tough drug problems the way nature evolves organisms to fill a biological niche. DiCE will eventually develop drugs but spin them out into subsidiary companies and find funding and development partners. “We would prefer to own a chunk of many assets, each being developed by a partner, rather than bet everything on one or at most two clinical compounds,” DiCE CEO Kevin Judice told Xconomy.

—The Institute for Systems Biology and Providence Health & Services, both of Seattle, are teaming up to put the ISB’s personalized medicine and wellness tools to use among Providence’s 3.3 million patients across five states. The goal is to shift healthcare practice from treatment of disease to “wellness preservation.” The organizations plan to work on projects such as identification of the signals that a person is going from wellness into disease; the long-term analysis of Alzheimer’s risk; and new treatment approaches to fatal brain tumors.

—Also in Seattle, the non-profit global health group PATH announced a new Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

—San Diego-based Bird Rock Bio said two recent studies show that its lead drug candidate, an antibody for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, is both safe and effective at very low doses. CEO Paul Grayson said that the dosage required—less than 50 milligrams a year—could allow Bird Rock to set the price of its drug, gerilimzumab, at $2,000 per patient, a fraction of the price for currently approved biologics like adalimumab (Humira) or tocilizumab (Actemra).

—Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and elsewhere are racing to uncover the secrets of the Zika virus, which was discovered 65 years ago, but only in the past year or two have links to birth defects and a rare autoimmune disease emerged. Our Exome column this week outlines the short cuts that might lead to drugs, vaccines, and other interventions faster.

—Adaptive Biotechnologies of Seattle hired Johnson & Johnson veteran Diego Miralles to run its new drug development group, which will be based in Miralles’s hometown of San Diego. Adaptive has made its name sequencing and analyzing the rapidly changing genomic profiles of B and T cells in the immune system, but last year it said it would create a therapeutics group as well.

—San Diego’s Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX) said it has bought back U.S. rights to its obesity drug, a combination of naltrexone and bupropion marketed as Contrave, from development partner Takeda Pharmaceutical. Their relationship foundered after Orexigen inappropriately released data from a cardio-risk study of Contrave, which forced the study’s leaders to cut it short. Orexigen also said it sold commercial rights to the drug in 19 European countries to Valeant Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: VRX).

—Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HALO) of San Diego said it’s begun dosing patients in a Phase 3 clinical trial testing its experimental drug, PEGPH20, in combination with nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane) and gemcitabine (Gemzar) in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

—San Diego’s Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) said its partner Spectrum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SPPI) received FDA approval of melphalan (Evomela) in multiple myeloma. With the approval, Ligand earned a $6 million milestone payment from Spectrum and stands to also receive sales royalties.

—The FDA approved a new treatment for hemophilia A from German healthcare firm Bayer. The drug, a recombinant version of the protein Factor VIII that helps clot blood, is manufactured in Bayer’s Berkeley, CA plant.