Life sciences briefing: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

MRI image-analysis firm Confirma receives $18M –Confirma, a Bellevue, Wash., developer of automated systems for medical-image analysis, received $17.5 million in a third funding round. Investors included Telegraph Hill Partners, Fluke Venture Partners, Northwest Venture Associates, Prism Ventureworks and Versant Ventures.

The company already sells image-analysis software and associated equipment for breast-cancer detection, and is developing a similar system for prostate cancer. We previously covered the company here.

zogenix-logo-150px.gifSpecialty pharma Zogenix raises $18M – Zogenix, a San Diego specialty pharma, raised $18 million in a new financing round. Investors included Abingworth Management, Clarus Ventures, Domain Associates and Scale Venture Partners.

Zogenix previously raised $60 million in a first funding round back in Aug. 2006, and apparently has been quiet since then. Our coverage of them is here. Zogenix is developing a needle-free injection system for pain and CNS drugs, which it licensed from Aradigm in 2006.

bayhill-tx-logo-150px.gifBayhill Therapeutics files for $87M IPO – Bayhill Therapeutics, a Palo Alto, Calif., biotech focused on autoimmune disease, filed to raise $86.3 million in an IPO. The company aims to restore the immune system to a state of “tolerance,” theoretically defusing particular autoimmune diseases while leaving the body’s defenses intact.

Bayhill’s approach to inducing tolerance is by using small loops of DNA, known as plasmids, that code for a specific protein antigen that appears to set off the body’s attack against itself. By introducing those plasmids in such a way that they’ll be taken up and “turned on” by the immune-system’s antigen presenting cells, the company hopes to re-educate the immune system to ignore those particular proteins.

Like most novel biotechs at this stage, Bayhill’s technology is intriguing but unproven. Its lead candidate, a drug for multiple sclerosis, has completed a mid-stage, phase II trial, but the result are complex to interpret. The company’s drug is a plasmid that codes for “myelin basic protein,” or MBP, one of the immune-system’s targets in MS. In that phase II trial, however, Bayhill only tested some patients to see if they had high levels of antibody to MBP — and the company only saw a significant reduction in MS-related brain lesions among those few patients with high MBP-antibody levels.