Life sciences briefing: Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

(UPDATED: See below.)

Featured companies: Anaptys Biosciences, Arterial Remodeling Technologies, Cambria Biosciences, CaseNet, ChemoCentryx, Ensemble Discovery, MediQuest, Piedmont Pharmaceuticals, Raven Biotechnologies, Sensys Medical, Verus Pharmaceuticals, Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals

UPDATED: Expanded items on Anaptys, Arterial Remodeling, Raven Biotech, Sensys and MediQuest. Moved ChemoCentryx and Xanodyne to a separate item.Antibody-drug maker Raven Biotech merges with VaxGen — Raven Biotechnologies, a South San Francisco biotech developing antibody drugs, is merging with the troubled, publicly held vaccine maker VaxGen. The confusingly worded release is here.

Although the deal isn’t technically a reverse merger, Raven is effectively taking over the shell that VaxGen has become. VaxGen, once best known for its pioneering, but ultimately failed, attempt to produce an AIDS vaccine, next set its hopes on producing anthrax vaccine for the U.S. government. But the company lost that contract in 2006. VaxGen had been delisted from the Nasdaq two years earlier. Since then, VaxGen has been looking to sell itself or to find some other combination with which it could make use of its cash ($56.5 million as of Sept. 30) and existing investment in biotech production facilities. [UPDATE: VaxGen's CFO wrote in to point out that the company also holds $20.7 million in "investment securities."]

Although Vaxgen will be the surviving company, Raven CEO George Schreiner will run the combined entity, most of whose business will consist of Raven’s antibody-drug development programs. The company’s lead candidate, RAV12, is currently in early-to-mid stage tests against a type of cander called adenocarcinoma. According to VentureWire, Raven has raised $115 million in venture funding.

All of which makes the deal’s valuation a bit puzzling. As of Sept. 30, VaxGen had 33.1 million shares outstanding, giving the company a market capitalization of $36.7 million at its closing price of $1.11 on the Pink Sheets. VaxGen will issue another 32 million shares and will end up with 51 percent of the combined company. Near as I can tell, that seems to value Raven at somewhere around $33 million, although I wouldn’t take that figure to the bank.

Before the deal can close, VaxGen needs to relist its stock on a national exchange. The two companies will undergo restructuring to save cash, and once combined will use Raven’s headquarters in South San Francisco.

anaptys-logo.jpgAntibody-drug maker Anaptys raises $34M — Anaptys Biosciences, a San Diego biotech developing new antibody-based drugs, raised $33.9 million in a second funding round. Investors included Novo A/S, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, Alloy Ventures, Avalon Ventures, Numenor Ventures, WS Investment and Anaptys board member Nick Lydon.

Anaptys relies on a technique for producing large quantities of varied antibodies in order to find ones with the best “drug-like” properties. We’ve written about other companies working on similar “diversity generation” techniques, most recently AvidBiotics, which we described here.

Arterial Remodeling Tech gets €5.5M for absorbable stents — Paris-based Arterial Remodeling Technologies (no Web site), a device maker developing “bioresorbable” artery-opening stents, raised €5.5 million ($7.8 million). Investors included Matignon Technologies and SGAM Alternative Investments.

Stents are the meshlike tubes used to prop open blocked arteries following a heart attack. Existing stents can lead to side effects such as scarring and potentially dangerous blood clots, so companies such as ART are developing stents that slowly dissolve into harmless components such as carbon dioxide and water. Although ART doesn’t describe its technology in detail, see this 2004 press release about Guidant’s acquisition of a bioresorbable-stent startup and this article for a look at how these absorbable stents might work.

Glucose-meter maker Sensys Medical pulls in $3.8M — Chandler, Ariz.-based Sensys Medical, a device maker developing a non-invasive glucose meter for diabetics, raised $3.8 million of $4.5 million in bridge funding, VentureWire reports (subscription required). Investors included Adams Street Partners, Alliance Technology Ventures and Pappas Ventures.

MediQuest seeks $20M to $40M against Raynaud’s disease — Bothell, Wash.-based MediQuest, a biotech developing new treatments against Raynaud’s disease, aims to raise up to $40 million in a second funding round, VentureWire reports. The company recently reported positive late-stage data of its drug for Raynaud’s disease, a condition involving reduced blood flow to the extremities.

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