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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Acadia, Medivation, Verily, and More

Xconomy San Diego — 

Just a few weeks ago, the Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker committed $250 million of his Napster and Facebook fortune to a massive effort to accelerate ways to boost the body’s own immune system against cancer. Now he’s turning his attention to a different kind of biotech initiative, which you might describe as legalizing the cannabinoid receptor agonist.

Parker is spearheading a California ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and donated $500,000 of his own money to the effort in January. Supporters announced at a campaign kickoff in San Francisco Wednesday that they have collected 600,000 signatures to get the measure, officially known as the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” on the Nov. 8 ballot. That’s far more than the 365,000 certified signatures the state requires such measures to qualify for the ballot.

On another front, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on Wednesday to enact new regulations on tobacco that will tighten the use of e-cigarettes and make California the second state (after Hawaii) to raise the legal age for smoking cigarettes to 21.

In other life sciences news, here’s our rundown from the West Coast:

—Shares of Acadia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACAD) slumped to $27.04 in after-hours trading Thursday, after the San Diego biotech reported a wider-than-expected loss of 45 cents per share in the first quarter of 2016. Analysts had estimated Acadia’s loss would be 42 cents a share. Acadia’s stock was already slipping from its recent peak of $33 a share, which came after the FDA said it had approved Acadia’s drug pimavanserin (Nuplazid) for treating Parkinson’s related psychosis. The drug is the first medicine the FDA has approved for quieting the hallucinations and delusions that patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease often experience. The process for approving pimavanserin was delayed for more than a year, though, when Acadia stumbled in its planned submission of a new drug application.

—The buyout speculation surrounding San Francisco’s Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) continued this week, with Pfizer, Sanofi, and Amgen all rumored to be interested in the tiny company and its big prostate cancer drug enzalutamide (Xtandi). In a conference call Thursday, Medivation CEO David Hung said the company again rejected Sanofi’s unsolicited $9.3 billion takeover offer as too low and “highly opportunistic.” AstraZeneca and Novartis AG also are reportedly interested in acquiring Medivation.

The San Francisco Business Times analyzed the recent spate of hiring at Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences. In the first four months of the year, the secretive Alphabet spinout has hired at least 45 people with a wide range of skills, including software, hardware, and sensor development. The list includes Abbott’s John Hernandez, who is now leading health economics at Verily, and Jason Hipp, a former executive at Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) who is now heading pathology.

—In gene therapy news, Audentes Therapeutics of San Francisco announced a collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania to develop a treatment for a rare liver disease called Crigler-Najjar Syndrome. The collaborators will use modified viruses called AAV8, licensed from RegenxBio, to get the therapy into the patients’ cells. The company expects data from its first human trial next year.

—Another genetic medicine program using AAV was unveiled by Homology Medicines Monday. Homology is based near Boston, but it has licensed a type of AAV from City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles to develop therapies that replace faulty genes with healthy ones. Xconomy’s Ben Fidler explained the subtle but important differences between the work Homology will pursue and other forms of gene editing.

—Seattle’s Kineta Therapeutics will tap up to $7.2 million in funding from the Wellcome Trust to develop a treatment for Lassa fever. The cash should take the program through Phase 1 trials, according to Kineta. It has not yet reached the clinic.

Fierce Biotech reported that former Flexus executives, who sold their company to Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2015 for $800 million upfront, have formed a new startup called Ideaya Biosciences with $46 million pledged by 5am Ventures, Celgene, Novartis, and other backers. Ideaya, based in South San Francisco and San Diego, marks the third spinout related to Flexus, which was built with the idea of more companies in mind. The company said it is focused on developing new ways for treating cancer that target DNA damage and repair pathways, as well as new cancer immunotherapies.

Graybug Vision of Redwood City, CA, raised $44.5 million in a Series B round to push its wet age-related macular degeneration drug through Phase 2 trials. Deerfield Management led the round.

—Tocagen, a San Diego biotech developing a gene therapy treatment for a type of brain cancer known as recurrent high grade Glioma, reported encouraging clinical data earlier this week at American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago. A study of Tocagen’s intravenously delivered retrovirus, vocimagene amiretrovepvec (Toca 511) in combination with extended-release flucytosine (Toca FC) improved the probability of survival at 12 months to over 61 percent. In a statement, Tocagen CEO Harry Gruber said the data “support additional investigation in patients with primary brain cancer and metastatic cancers.’