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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Zymeworks, Lee Hood, Sue Biggins, Nektar

Xconomy Seattle — 

The news flow has been slow since the end of this year’s J.P. Morgan madness. The week in life sciences was dominated by President Obama’s call for a national precision medicine initiative. (For a West Coast angle, Xconomy asked genetics pioneer and Seattle fixture Lee Hood to weigh in with his thoughts.)

Let’s start our short roundup in the West Coast’s northernmost biotech hub and work our way south.

—Zymeworks of Vancouver, BC, said Wednesday it will collaborate with Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) on bispecific antibody programs. In addition to an equity investment, Celgene is paying undisclosed upfront fees, and Zymeworks could earn as much as $164 million from the Summit, NJ-based drugmaker for each candidate that reaches the market.

—Staying north of the border: Fresh off its merger agreement with OnCore Biopharma, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKMR), also of Vancouver, said Wednesday it has begun a Phase 1 trial for its hepatitis B treatment.

—Sue Biggins, a researcher at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has won the Genetics Society of America’s Edward Novitski Prize for her work on the kinetichore, the molecular machinery that regulates chromosome segregation during cell division.

—Newark, CA-based Depomed (NASDAQ: DEPO) said Jan. 15 it paid $1.05 billion to Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) for the rights to the pain drug tapentadol (Nucynta).

—According to the San Francisco Business Times, Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTR) is expanding its San Francisco footprint in anticipation of good news from its larger partners AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) and Bayer HealthCare, as well as late-stage breast-cancer trial data.

Forbes broke the news late last week that former employees of NantHealth, part of Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong’s life sciences conglomerate NantWorks, are alleging fraud in a lawsuit. The company denied the allegations.

—Santa Monica, CA-based Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE) said Thursday it has agreed to work with Zelig Eshhar, a leading cancer immunotherapy researcher at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel.

—Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ: NBIX) of San Diego said Friday the FDA has granted orphan status to its treatment for congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic disorder that affects the adrenal glands.