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West Coast Biotech Roundup: PCSK9, Amgen, SeaGen, Twist, Serenus

Xconomy Seattle — 

The biggest West Coast news happened near the nation’s capital this week. Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) of Thousand Oaks, CA, saw its next-generation anti-cholesterol drug evolocumab (Repatha) get a thumbs-up, with caveats, from an FDA advisory panel. Next comes the agency’s decision later this summer whether to approve the drug, and for which patients. The panel also recommended approval, with similar reservations, for alirocumab from Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN). The prospect of new drugs for people whose dangerously high cholesterol isn’t adequately addressed by statins like atorvastatin (Lipitor) was great news for a Pasadena, CA-based patient advocate who testified before the advisory panel and talked to Xconomy afterwards.

While public discussion of the cholesterol drugs was taking place across the continent, there was plenty of financing, deal, clinical, and regulatory news closer to home. Let’s get to the roundup.

—Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN) paid $25 million up front to Unum Therapeutics of Cambridge, MA, for access to Unum’s T-cell therapy technology. The companies will work to create two products that combine SeaGen’s antibodies with Unum’s T cells, which would use the antibodies as guides to home in on cancer cells. Total recompense to Unum could go as high as $615 million.

—San Francisco’s Twist Bioscience added to its coffers with a $37 million Series C financing. The synthetic DNA provider, which believes it has a leg up in the competitive field because of its engineering chops, tapped sequencing giant Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) to lead the round, which brings Twist’s total cash raised to $82 million. Others include new investors Fidelity and Foresite Capital Management and previous investors Arch Venture Partners, Yuri Milner, and Joby and Nick Pritzker.

—Serenus Biotherapeutics, with operations in San Francisco and Johannesburg, South Africa, said Thursday that former Elan CEO Kelly Martin has become its chairman. Serenus is working to bring drugs already approved in the U.S., Europe, and Japan to sub-Saharan Africa. CEO Menghis Bairu is a former head of global development at Elan; Martin is now a director at Irish healthcare firm Malin, which owns 41 percent of Serenus.

—Vancouver, BC-based QLT (NASDAQ: QLTI) announced a slate of deals Thursday. It has bought Insite Vision in a cash-for-stock transaction worth about $23 million and raised an undisclosed amount of cash from investors EcoR1 Capital, JW Asset Management, and Broadfin Capital. That infusion brings QLT’s cash balance to about $70 million. QLT also said it has made a $45 million investment in newly formed Aralez Pharmaceuticals—about 9 percent ownership—and will distribute those shares to QLT shareholders. QLT will also return capital to its shareholders by issuing $25 million in convertible debt.

—The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center of Seattle said late last week it has hired Nicole Robinson to run its industry relations and tech transfer office. Robinson previously spent nine years in the commercialization office at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

—Roche’s Genentech unit of South San Francisco, CA, received breakthrough status from the FDA for its tocilizumab (Actemra) in the treatment of systemic sclerosis, also known as systemic scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder that can result in thick, hard skin but also can greviously affect connective tissues and organs.

—Titan Pharmaceuticals (OTCQB: TTNP) of South San Francisco, CA, unveiled Monday what it characterized as positive topline data from its Phase 3 trial of Probuphine, an implanted version of a drug to treat opioid addiction. The company hopes to have the product available next year.

—San Diego’s Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ: NBIX) said Tuesday it had put the brakes on a clinical program for its drug to treat congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic disorder that results in low sodium levels and dehydration and can be fatal. No patients had been enrolled. The program was halted after Neurocrine re-examined preclinical data and had safety concerns.

Photo courtesy of Wonderlane via a Creative Commons license.