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West Coast Biotech Roundup: KaloBios, Atreca, Acadia, Twist & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

There were drips and drabs of news out west this week, but compared to recent weeks with former Silicon Valley darling Theranos taking a beating, or 23andMe revving its engines, it’s been sleepy. The big exceptions come in the form of two Bay Area companies going in opposite directions. The big green blinking arrow pointing up, if that’s your emoji of choice for what’s hot, goes to Stanford University spinout Atreca, which said it had rounded up $56 million for a Series A. The pulsing red arrow pointing down is for KaloBios, an antibody drug maker that hasn’t had good news in a long time.

Let’s find out more about those two companies, plus more news from the Pacific side of the country, where you never know what you might see as you finish up a tour of Alcatraz.

—KaloBios Pharmaceuticals of South San Francisco, CA, continues to spiral downward, announcing Thursday it would lay off 17 people, more than half its employees, and continue to look for a buyer. It will also halt a clinical trial of a blood cancer drug and likely delay its next quarterly earnings report. Five years ago, then-CEO David Pritchard talked about building a billion-dollar company. Instead, KaloBios is limping badly. Pritchard left the company abruptly in January.

—Atreca of Redwood City, CA, said it has pushed its Series A financing all the way to $56 million, a figure that includes at least $6 million invested by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012. As Xconomy reported at the time, Atreca spun out of Stanford University with technology that surveyed the entirety of various people’s immune responses, potentially to find better antibody drugs or vaccines to fight cancer or infectious disease. The lead investor in the round is an undisclosed U.S. healthcare-focused fund.

—San Diego’s Acadia Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACAD) said Monday that the FDA has set a May 1 target date to consider Acadia’s new drug application for pimavanserin (Nuplazid) as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease-associate psychosis. The date was set as a priority review, which the FDA applies to drugs that might offer major advances in treatment or treatment where no adequate therapy exists.

—San Diego’s Regulus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RGLS) said it has expanded development of its experimental drug candidate RG-101 to treat hepatitis C under a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK).

– Synthetic DNA maker Twist Biosciences of San Francisco closed a deal with Ginkgo Bioworks of Boston to sell Ginkgo 100 million base pairs of synthetic DNA, which the companies claim is 10 percent of the total capacity worldwide. Ginkgo said it would use the raw material to design organisms that help produce new fragrances, foods, and industrial products.

—Shares of San Diego’s Kura Oncology (NASDAQ: KURA) declined slightly Thursday, its first day of trading on the Nasdaq exchange. The company, which is developing new drugs for solid tumors and blood cancers, priced its IPO Wednesday evening—selling 6.25 million shares at $8 a share to raise a total of $50 million, well below its original plan.

—Fresh off its October IPO, antibody drug developer CytomX Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTMX) of South San Francisco, CA, said today it would collaborate with MD Anderson Cancer Center of Houston to create new cell therapies that use CytomX’s antibody technology to hone in more precisely on cancer targets.

—Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) signaled confidence that its experimental T cell cancer treatments would continue progress toward marketing approval by hiring a chief commercial officer, Bob Azelby. Azelby was previously in charge of Amgen’s oncology business.

—VistaGen Therapeutics of South San Francisco, CA, has dosed the first patient in its Phase 2a trial of its lead compound, AV-101, to treat depression.

—UC San Diego said a $5 million gift from ResMed (NYSE: RMD) founder and chairman Peter Farrell will support sleep medicine research and care at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. San Diego-based ResMed develops medical equipment and devices for sleep-disordered breathing and related respiratory disorders.

—Medical practice software maker Quality Systems (NASDAQ: QSII) of Irvine, CA, agreed to buy San Diego-based HealthFusion Holdings for at least $165 million. HealthFusion develops Web-based software for physicians, hospitals, and medical billing services. Contingent payments could eventually add as much as $25 million to the deal.

—The San Diego Blood Bank announced a pilot program for volunteers to participate in genomics research as part of the federal government’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The blood bank says 100 volunteers already have agreed to donate an extra vial of blood to be sequenced for the nationwide genomics research study.

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