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West Coast Bio Roundup: Prince, Theranos, Second Genome, CytomX & More

Xconomy San Francisco — 

The biggest biomedical news on this coast, that coast, or any coast this week is the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, a man who did more to promote cardiovascular fitness than any drug maker could ever hope to do. How much of your life have you spent dancing to his music, or, ahem, engaged in other blood-pumping activities? For many who came of age under his purple reign, the hours are too many to count. When the Big One eventually hits out here in California, I’m putting on “Housequake” until the shaking stops. Good bye, Prince. We’ll miss you.

The West Coast produced its fair share of biotech news this week, from Theranos’s latest twist to IPO grumblings and trade group rumblings. We round it all up—for you.

—Blood-testing firm Theranos is being investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. It’s the latest in a string of bad news sparked by reports last fall in the Journal that the high profile Palo Alto, CA-based startup’s testing technology wasn’t all it cracked up to be.

—Remember IPOs? There have been few this year, but many others that have been postponed or withdrawn altogether. BioCardia of San Carlos, CA, is the latest biotech to back down from an IPO try. The firm, which wants to treat heart failure patients with injections of bone marrow cells, withdrew its effort due to unfavorable market conditions late last week.

—But others press on, some with lofty goals, some with more modest aims. Seattle’s PhaseRx, a developer of enzyme replacement therapy for liver disease, filed IPO paperwork this week. The company set an early goal of raising $25 million, and some of its shareholders aim to sell $5 million more.

—San Diego-based Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) said it has reached a 10-year deal with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and its global biologics R&D arm, MedImmune, to sequence and analyze as many as 500,000 DNA samples from AstraZeneca’s clinical trials. Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal comes less than a month after the privately-held HLI, which genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter launched in 2013, announced $220 million in new venture financing.

—Mo’ microbiome, mo’ money: Second Genome of South San Francisco, CA, said it has raised nearly $43 million in a Series B round to push its lead drug into Phase 2 tests for ulcerative colitis and work to advance more drug programs toward clinical trials. The company uses microbial genomic analysis to develop traditional drugs that block disease-causing interactions between a patient and the microbes in his or her gut. One of Second Genome’s new investors is a fund affiliated with food conglomerate Mars, marking the latest foray by a food or nutrition related entity into the microbiome space. Also this week, Nestlé was among the investors in French biotech Enterome’s €14.5 million Series C round, which Enterome says it will use to move its lead drug into the clinic this year for inflammatory bowel diseases.

—BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN) of San Rafael, CA, reported preliminary data this week from an early hemophilia A trial using BioMarin’s experimental gene therapy treatment. The trial marks the first time a gene therapy has shown an impact on patients with hemophilia A, but the data release comes with plenty of caveats, as Xconomy’s Ben Fidler explains here.

—CytomX Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CTMX) of South San Francisco struck a deal with AbbVie (NASDAQ: ABBV), of North Chicago, IL. AbbVie is paying $30 million immediately, mainly for rights to co-develop a drug that combines a cancer-killing toxin with one of CytomX’s so-called “Probodies,” an antibody-like molecule, against cancers that display the protein CD71. If everything goes right, AbbVie could pay CytomX $470 million more.

—Two items of trade group news: Life Science Washington, the northwest state’s main biotech trade group based in Seattle, named Leslie Alexandre as its new president and CEO. And Biocom, based in San Diego, has established an office in Los Angeles, with Dina Lozofsky as executive director.

—The U.S. National Academy of Arts and Sciences announced 213 new members. Among the West Coast life sciences honorees were Anne Villeneuve of Stanford University, Lawrence Loeb of the University of Washington, Gary Gilliland of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Eva Nogales of the University of California, Berkeley.

—The Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute said it would form a new center for translational neuroscience with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). GSK agreed to pay for a lab of six to eight Sanford Burnham Prebys scientists and staffers, who will work with GSK neuroscientists. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Photo “Prince Oakland 23 Feb 2011” courtesy of Derek Wolfgram via Creative Commons license.

Xconomy San Diego editor Bruce V. Bigelow contributed to this report, when he was working part time in a five-and-dime.