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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Apple, 23andMe, Amgen, Acadia & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

A is for all the news up and down the West Coast this week, and much of that news was both about bio and tech. Apple launched an iPhone-based medical research platform, 23andMe has hired a former Genentech star to turn its genomic database into a drug discovery platform, and Google is expanding its genomic library. For some newsmakers, advanced technology couldn’t help much. Acadia Pharmaceuticals said it couldn’t build out its manufacturing fast enough, forcing a delay in its top product’s potential approval. We’ve got 900 words of big data for you right here: let’s get to the roundup.

—Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) of Cupertino, CA, unveiled ResearchKit, a software development program that lets iPhone users contribute personal health data to medical research. The program launched with apps for cardiac disease, asthma, diabetes, breast cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, thousands of willing participants, and concerns that the programs, tapping a narrow population (i.e., iPhone users), might generate misleading data.

—In another intersection of health data and research, 23andMe of Mountain View, CA, said Thursday it had hired neuroscientist Richard Scheller, a longtime Genentech research leader, to form and run its new drug R&D group. 23andMe president Andy Page told Xconomy that to find new ways to attack disease, Scheller’s team will spend 2015 combing through 23andMe’s vast genetic database, collected from customers who have bought the company’s $99 gene-profile kits and consented to participate in research.

—Acadia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACAD) of San Diego gave its investors a big shock late Wednesday. Instead of an acquisition, as had been rumored the day before, the company revealed that its CEO Uli Hacksell had resigned from his post and his board seat, and that it would delay its new drug application for pimavanserin (Nuplazid) until the second half of 2015 because of unspecified quality control and manufacturing problems. It was expected to file the application by the end of March. Pimavanserin is a treatment for psychosis associated with Parkinson’s.

—As Xconomy first reported Tuesday, Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) is going to shut down its 750-employee Onyx Pharmaceuticals subsidiary at the end of 2015. It plans to lay off 300 workers and offer jobs to 250 more, while the fate of the other 200 remains in limbo.

—Aduro Biotech of Berkeley, CA, filed paperwork for an IPO try. The cancer vaccine developer got a big boost last year from a licensing deal with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) and an investment from J&J’s venture arm. Its CEO Steve Isaacs, who has a nonprofit family foundation in Kenya, is also helping raise money so that a Zambian woman get medical care in the U.S.

—AltheaDx of San Diego nixed its IPO plans. With 13 commercial tests and nearly $14 million in revenue through the first nine months of 2014, Althea was aiming to raise about $60 million.

—More Silicon Valley news: the genomics group at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) will host and provide public access to Provo, UT-based Tute Genomics’ database of 8.5 billion annotations of genetic variants.

—Allergen Research of San Mateo, CA, said Thursday it has raised an $80 million Series B round to push its peanut-allergy treatment into a Phase 3 trial and start new studies for milk and egg allergy treatments. Foresite Capital led the round and was joined by existing investor Longitude Capital as well as new investors Fidelity Management & Research, Aisling Capital, Adage Capital, RA Capital Management, and Palo Alto Investors.

—Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: KYTH) got a double dose of good news for its experimental treatment for submental fullness—also known as a double chin. It got a thumbs-up recommendation from an FDA advisory panel, a big step toward approval, and it raised $125 million in an offering of 2.6 million shares at $48 each. (Its bankers could sell another 391,000 shares.)

—Former Intellikine CEO Troy Wilson has founded Kura Oncology in San Diego with $60 million in funding and a public listing via a reverse merger. Wilson plans to revive tipifarnib, an anti-cancer drug in-licensed from J&J, with two mid-stage trials for patients with acute myeloid leukemia and peripheral T-cell lymphomas.

—San Diego-based Zogenix (NASDAQ: ZGNX) agreed to sell its Zohydro painkiller business to Pernix Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PTX) of Morristown, NJ, in a deal that could eventually be worth as much as $385 million. Zogenx CEO Roger Hawley said proceeds, along with the elimination of employees and Zohydro operating expenses, will let Zogenix advance two drugs in its pipeline without needing to raise additional capital. Critics assailed Zohydro after it was introduced last year, saying the opioid drug could be easily abused.

—As if on a campaign swing, NIH director Francis Collins made several appearances in San Diego last week to discuss an initiative in precision medicine that would require, for starters, $215 million in fiscal 2016. Collins said the long-term, large-scale effort to build a massive database of detailed health and genomic information on 1 million American volunteers “gives us access to the kind of deep information and the kind of power that we have not had before,” Collins said.

—Cardiac Dimensions of Kirkland, WA, boosted its current financing round to $43 million with a $15 million tranche from Life Sciences Partners and Aperture Venture Partners. The cash will help fund a clinical trial of its implantable device to treat functional mitral regurgitation, one cause of heart failure.

—Portola Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: PLTA) of South San Francisco, CA, sold 2.5 million shares at $40 apiece to raise $90 million. Its underwriters could sell up to 374,000 more shares.

Xconomy San Diego Editor Bruce V. Bigelow contributed to this report.