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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Avalanche, CytomX, BioMarin, Dubs & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

We’re in a Golden State of mind this week, and we’ll splash down with several items from beyond the arc in Northern California, home of the new NBA champions. Gene therapy developer Avalanche Biotechnologies tried to take it to the rack with important Phase 2a data, but investors rejected the shot with emphasis. CytomX Therapeutics shuffled its starting lineup, putting a cancer immunotherapy drug at the point and raising $70 million. And BioMarin Pharmaceutical raised the roof—on its stock price, that is—by reporting positive data for its dwarfism treatment.

You can’t stop the West Coast roundup this week. You can only hope to contain it.

—Avalanche (NASDAQ: AAVL) of Menlo Park, CA, reported positive Phase 2a data for its gene therapy for wet age-related macular degeneration. But investors saw the data differently, noting the primary goal of improving eyesight only seemed significant because it was compared to a poor performance by patients on placebo. What’s more, the drug seemed to make patients’ retinas thicker, on average—the opposite of what the study intended. Avalanche shares, trading around $40 each before the news, were down more than 60 percent as of this writing.

—CytomX of South San Francisco, CA, raised a $70 million Series D round to move its anti-PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor into human clinical trials. The cash comes from crossover investors whose involvement often signals that a private biotech is readying a run at an IPO.

—In South San Francisco, Kezar Life Sciences debuted with a $23 million Series A funding to push forward drugs that originally came out of Bay Area biotech Proteolix. But Proteolix was bought by Onyx Pharmaceuticals, which was bought by Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN). So Amgen is licensing the startup’s immune system research program, which Kezar expects will lead to a clinical candidate in autoimmune disease, and taking an equity stake in the new company.

–Indie Bio, a San Francisco biotech accelerator, held its first demo day on June 11, with 12 companies presenting. I tweeted about several of the short presentations. (Look for the June 11 date stamp.)

—BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN) of San Rafael, CA, said its treatment for dwarfism produced positive results in a mid-stage trial. The news bumped the company’s share price to an all-time high, closing Thursday at $138.66.

—Moving up the coast to the Pacific Northwest, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR) of Vancouver, BC, reported that the Phase 2 trial for its Ebola treatment, being conducted in Sierra Leone, had to be halted because it was not showing any benefit, although a full analysis is yet to come. The study was being run by scientists not affiliated with Tekmira. The company’s share price was down 11 percent to $13.31 in midday trading Friday.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center of Seattle said it hired a new chief information officer to guide the center into the era of big data and precision medicine. Matthew Trunnell, whom the Hutch is hiring away from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA, starts his new job August 31.

—International drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) said it would bankroll a new research center in Seattle, dubbed the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, for genomic and cell research that GSK hopes will lead to drug development projects. GSK will fund Altius to the tune of at least $95 million over five years and have first rights to Altius inventions.

—Stratos Genomics of Seattle said it hit a development milestone with its nanopore sequencing technology and triggered $15 million in funding from Roche Ventures and Fisk Ventures. The cash brings Stratos’s Series B round to $30 million.

—Cosmetic biotech Kythera Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: KYTH) of Westlake Village, CA, had a short but fruitful life as a commercial company. Allergan said it would buy Kythera for $2.1 billion less than two months after the FDA approved Kybella, an injection to shrink double chins.

—Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) held a groundbreaking for its new headquarters in Seattle, a site that we profiled here to highlight its inclusion of an historic Seattle street clock. MIT Technology Review also published a feature on Juno this week, which you can read here.

—In San Diego, Avalon Ventures launched three new biotechs under the umbrella of its co-development deal with GSK, bringing to six the number of Avalon startups GSK has the option to acquire.

—San Diego-based Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: LGND) said the FDA has approved eltrombopag (Promacta) to treat children with chronic immune thrombocytopenia, a disorder that leads to internal bleeding. The drug was approved in 2008 for adults with the same condition. Novartis owns the rights to eltrombopag, which it bought from from GSK in March.

—Ignyta (NASDAQ: RXDX), a San Diego startup developing anti-cancer drugs and companion diagnostic tests, said it plans to sell about $75 million of its stock in a secondary offering priced at $17.50 a share.

—San Diego’s Arcturus Therapeutics and J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals have agreed to work together on new RNA-based drugs for certain diseases and disorders. Janssen agreed to make an undisclosed upfront payment to Arcturus, and will provide R&D support, milestone, and royalty payments.

—San Diego’s Batu Biologics, which raised $100,000 last year through an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for its lung cancer immune therapy, has raised $1 million from angel investors, according to a report in The San Diego Union-Tribune. The two-year-old startup has been developing ValloVax, a drug intended to stimulate an immune response against new blood vessels feeding tumors in the lungs.

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

NBA Finals photo courtesy Erik Drost via a Creative Commons license.