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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Global Blood, Invitae, GeneWEAVE, Adynxx

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Before the arrival of the summer doldrums, Global Blood Therapeutics managed to go public, although “managed” probably isn’t the right word for a debut that beat pre-IPO targets and then doubled its price the first day on the Nasdaq. It’s a big vote of confidence in the South San Francisco, CA-based company, whose lead drug is a once-a-day pill, to be taken for life, to treat sickle cell disease.

If approved, it would be a welcome option for the roughly 100,000 Americans, and millions more worldwide, who have very few options other than palliative care. But it’s also a risky bet, as the disease is a target for more radical gene-therapy treatments that in a few years could displace a chronic pill.

There might not be more biotech IPOs this month, but unless China’s economic malaise spreads quickly, or investors decide while at their beach houses the next couple weeks that biotech is, like, so 2014, we’re likely to see more activity after Labor Day.

There ain’t no cure for the summer roundup blues, but let’s get to the rest of the week’s news.

—Genetic test maker Invitae (NASDAQ: NVTA) of San Francisco and four academic collaborators published a study in JAMA Oncology that suggests testing for multiple genes implicated in breast and ovarian cancer—other than the well-known BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes—could help guide treatment decisions. Invitae presented the results as evidence that its tests are candidates for insurance reimbursement. Convincing payers that a cancer diagnostic product can change a doctor’s care decisions is a key part of the business, as I wrote about in last week’s In Translation column.

—Another Bay Area test maker, GeneWEAVE Biosciences of Los Gatos, CA, exited the business via a $190 million buyout by Roche. The deal could include $235 million more in future payments if the GeneWEAVE technology to detect drug-resistant bacteria pans out.

—In Washington state, the recently defunded Life Sciences Discovery Fund said it would put the $2 million left in its coffers toward grants for entrepreneurs trying to bring their ideas and products to market.

—Staying Northwest, our Seattle-based biotech columnist Stewart Lyman paused to reflect upon the career of Frances Kelsey, who passed away after passing the century mark. She was the FDA regulator who saw the birth-defect problems with thalidomide in Europe and raised a red flag about the drug’s potential approval in the U.S.

—There was a West Coast angle to one of the biggest private biotech fundings of the year; Bill Gates and his advisor Boris Nikolic were part of the syndicate behind gene editing startup Editas Medicine’s $120 million Series B round.

—Roche’s Genentech division, based in South San Francisco, said yesterday that its drug venetoclax, to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia with a 17p genetic deletion—found in roughly a third to half of all CLL patients—showed positive results in a pivotal Phase 2 trial. The drug is partnered with AbbVie.

—Adynxx of San Francisco reported positive Phase 2 data Tuesday for its pain drug AYX1, which was tested in patients following knee replacement surgery.

Photo of California’s Bixby Bridge courtesy of flickr user Giuseppe Milo via a Creative Commons license. Mille grazie, Giuseppe!