Life sciences briefing: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

oncomed-logo-150px.gifCancer stem-cell co. OncoMed strikes GSK partnership worth up to $1.4B – Redwood City, Calif.-based OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, a biotech founded to target and destroy the “cancer stem cells” that researchers believe may lurk at the heart of every tumor, struck a major partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to discover and commercialize new cancer drugs based on OncoMed’s technology.

The deal allows GSK to license up to four of OncoMed’s monoclonal antibody drugs that are directed at multiple cancer stem-cell targets. In turn, OncoMed gets an undisclosed initial payment, an equity investment, and milestone payments of up to $1.4 billion, plus double-digit royalties on any marketed products. The arrangement includes OncoMed’s leading product candidate, OMP-21M18, which is scheduled to begin human testing this year.

Cancer stem cells are, like most stem cells, thought to be progenitor cells that give rise to a diverse population of other cell types. In this case, however, the cancer stem cells theoretically keep tumors alive by constantly producing replacement tumor cells as they are killed off by chemotherapy, radiation or the body’s defenses. Cancer stem cells, in fact, may explain why tumors return so easily after surgery or chemotherapy, since if even a few stem cells survive, they can easily recreate the tumor.

cdi-bioscience-logo-150px.jpgCDI Bioscience pulls in $3M for protein-production improvements – CDI Bioscience, a Madison, Wisc., biotech aiming to improve the efficiency of genetically engineered cells in the production of biotech drugs, raised $3 million in a first funding round. Battelle Ventures and Innovation Valley Partners provided the funding.

CDI has developed a process that forces bioengineered cells into a “senescent” state, which CDI claims is characterized by greater energy production (in terms of increased numbers of mitochondria) and increased protein synthesis and output. The company claims that cells “shifted” into senescence routinely produce three to seven times the amount of engineered protein — the output that biotechs purify into drugs — than their unshifted counterparts.