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West Coast Bio Roundup: UCLA Cashes In, BioMarin Tries Again & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

The prostate cancer drug enzalutamide (Xtandi), from San Francisco’s Medivation, has had a long, legally tangled history. Its inventors can also call it lucrative: a New York finance group that specializes in drug sales royalties has bought royalty rights from the University of California, Los Angeles, and others for more than $1 billion.

Reversals of fortune were also a topic this week on the West Coast. Less than two years ago, Exelixis laid off nearly three-quarters of the company because its main drug failed a big prostate cancer test while rival drugs like enzalutamide reached the market. But it has clawed back to the brink of a big approval in kidney cancer, and now has cash in its pocket thanks to a big licensing deal with Ipsen. Also in the Bay Area, BioMarin Pharmaceutical is looking to rebound, too, less than two months after an FDA rejection. It says data from a small trial are enough to ask regulators for a drug approval in Batten disease.

Two West Coast companies are part of the race to bring engineered T cells to market to treat cancer patients with otherwise untreatable forms of blood cancers. Santa Monica, CA-based Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE) and Seattle’s Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) both hope to have their treatments on the market next year, but a lot of things have to break right. EPVantage analyst Jacob Plieth wrote an overview of the competition between the companies after digesting their quarterly earnings reports. There’s more news from the Bay Area, Seattle, and from San Diego, too, so let’s get to the roundup.

—Royalty Pharma of New York has bought royalty rights to some of the future sales of the prostate cancer drug enzalutamide (Xtandi) for $1.14 billion upfront. Nearly half of that cash, $520 million, is going to the University of California, Los Angeles, where much of the work behind the compound was conducted, and the other half will be spread between the inventors and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, according to Royalty Pharma. The financial firm could pay out more in the future based on sales milestones, but those details were undisclosed. San Francisco’s Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) and its partner Astellas sell enzalutamide and are also testing it as a treatment for breast and liver cancer. Meanwhile, some of enzalutamide’s inventors recently formed a new company, ORIC Therapeutics, to develop a drug that treats enzalutamide-resistant cancer.

—Slapped down in January by the FDA in its attempt to bring a Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug to market, BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN) of San Rafael, CA, said this week it would try again this year with a different drug. The company said data from an early stage trial to treat a form of the rare, genetically inherited Batten disease are good enough to approach U.S. and European regulators for marketing approval. The trial tested BioMarin’s cerliponase alfa, an enzyme replacement, in 24 children with a form of Batten that typically ends in death by early adolescence.

—Exelixis (NASDAQ: EXEL) of South San Francisco, CA, announced a tie-up with French drug firm Ipsen. For $200 million upfront, Ipsen will receive rights to the Exelixis drug cabozantinib (Cometriq) around the world except in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. Ipsen will also pay Exelixis $60 million if cabozantinib is approved by European regulators for advanced renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer, and $50 million if approved in Europe for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer. Ipsen could pay Exelixis up to $545 million in commercial milestones plus royalties up to 26 percent of Ipsen’s sales.

—HardTech Labs, which is building a life sciences accelerator at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, has named Michael Mendez as CTO and managing partner. Mendez will be selecting startups for the HTL Life accelerator program, which has space for as many as 15 startups. Mendez was a key scientist at multiple California biotechs, including Sapphire Energy, Syrrx, and Abgenix.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, said that the FDA has approved a three-drug combination for the treatment of HIV-1. The product, Odefsey, combines two of Gilead’s older HIV drugs with one from a division of Johnson & Johnson.

—San Diego-based Qualcomm’s (NASDAQ: QCOM) digital health business and UnitedHealthcare, the largest U.S. health insurance company, are starting a collaboration that includes a fitness tracker program. Members who wear a Trio activity tracker can earn credits up to $4 a day off their insurance deductible based on the number of steps they walk.

—NanoString Technologies (NASDAQ: NSTG) of Seattle will receive up to $24 million from Merck (NYSE: MRK) to develop a test that predicts if cancer patients are likely to respond to Merck’s drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda), which is approved to treat advanced cases of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. The companies said the test would apply to “multiple tumor types.”

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

Photo “UCLA Sunset, Royce Hall” courtesy of Jojolae via a Creative Commons license.