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West Coast Biotech Roundup: CRISPR, Doudna, Aduro, Amgen, NEA & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Berkeley, CA, is famous as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, led by Mario Savio, and the modern foodie movement, led by godmother Alice Waters. What about the gene editing movement? Jennifer Doudna, one of the scientists behind the technology known as CRISPR/Cas9, is a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. She was in the news this week twice. First, because she and her colleagues are in a rip-roaring patent fight over the ownership of CRISPR/Cas9—see our item below—and second, because Time Magazine named Doudna and her co-inventor, the European-based Emmanuelle Charpentier, to its list of the year’s 100 most influential people.

The Berkeley news doesn’t stop there. The East Bay town is also home to the latest biotech IPO rocket ship, also known as Aduro Biotech. Its debut this week was another sign of very bullish times. Finally, Bayer Healthcare announced a major expansion of its local R&D facility, making it a good week for the town often called Bezerkley. Let’s get to the roundup.

—The fight over ownership of the groundbreaking CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology grew more intense. The group centered around Doudna and Charpentier pressed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revisit its 2014 decision to grant a patent to the Broad Institute and MIT. A trove of documents supporting their case, including a declaration from gene editing pioneer Dana Carroll, were published on the PTO website Monday. The two sides could be facing a long hearing, even as companies affiliated with each side speed toward CRISPR-derived human therapeutics.

—Venture giant New Enterprise Associates, with headquarters split between Menlo Park, CA, and the Washington, DC, area, said this week it has closed on its 15th fund plus a side fund, with a total of $3.1 billion in commitments. NEA is a major biotech investor.

—Aduro Biotech (NASDAQ: ADRO) of Berkeley, CA, debuted on the Nasdaq with a pop. It raised $119 million, selling 7 million shares at $17 each, then saw its stock climb 147 percent in its first trading day Wednesday.

—San Diego’s Cidara Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CDTX) also went public, raising nearly $77 million (4.8 million shares at $16 each) to move its antifungal drug pipeline forward into clinical trials. Public markets were less enthusiastic, at least on the first day, with shares closing right at $16 Wednesday.

—San Diego-based Viking Therapeutics, which intended to raise $55 million in an IPO last September, has returned with a slimmer offer, a new banker, and a new lead product. It now plans to raise $20 million by selling 2.5 million shares at $7 to $9 apiece, according to Renaissance Capital. In September, its lead drug candidate was a treatment for type 2 diabetes, but Viking now says it’s focused on drug to ease rehabilitation after hip fracture surgery.

—San Francisco-based women’s health firm Medicines360, which has built a unique nonprofit business model, has launched a new intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception, branded Liletta. Its commercial partner Actavis is responsible for for-profit sales, while Medicines360 is handling sales to public health clinics.

—Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) of Thousand Oaks, CA, won FDA approval for ivabradine (Corlanor), a treatment for chronic heart failure. It’s the first drug approval for the biotech giant’s cardiovascular pipeline.

—Bayer Healthcare said it would pour $100 million into its Berkeley, CA, campus to build a new testing facility for its future hemophilia A products. Xconomy’s Ben Fidler recently wrote about Bayer and its competitors racing to develop gene therapies for hemophilia.

—San Diego’s Ichor Medical Systems agreed to collaborate with Janssen Pharmaceuticals on DNA-based vaccines for chronic hepatitis B. The partners plan to use Ichor’s electroporation technology to make it easier for the vaccines to enter cells. Ichor said it will get an undisclosed payment upfront and potential milestone payments up to $85 million.

—Qualcomm Life, the digital health subsidiary of San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), has agreed to collaborate with North Kansas City, MO-based Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN). Cerner intends to use Qualcomm Life’s 2net technology to transmit data collected from its wearable sensors and medical devices in the home to Cerner’s healthcare clients.

—San Francisco-based Benchling, a maker of cloud-based tools for life science data sharing and analysis, said Wednesday it has raised a $5 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

—Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle are teaming up with Medtronic to develop a deep brain stimulation device to treat people with essential tremor, a chronic shaking of the hands.

—SGI-DNA, a subsidiary founded two years ago by San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics to commercialize its synthetic DNA business, unveiled the BioXp 3200, a laboratory instrument that lets scientists design and produce high-quality, linear DNA fragments. The machine is intended to automate production and allow researchers to focus on experimental design.

Xconomy San Diego editor Bruce Bigelow contributed to this report.

Photo of the old map of Berkeley courtesy of Eric Fischer via a Creative Commons license.