Life sciences briefing: Friday, Feb. 1, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

taligen-logo-150px.gifTaligen Therapeutics raises $65M for novel anti-inflammatory drugs –Aurora, Colo.-based Taligen Therapeutics, a biotech working on targeted anti-inflammatory drugs, raised $65 million in a second round of funding. The deal is one of the largest I can recall for an early stage company that’s not in the business of licensing in drugs from other companies for immediate clinical development.

Taligen’s focus is on the “complement system,” an arm of the innate immune system that reacts to threats by triggering a biochemical cascade that attracts immune cells and causes the release of inflammatory molecules such as cytokines. This sort of inflammation tends to rage out of control in autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes, eventually leading to serious tissue damage.

Existing targeted drugs for autoimmune disease typically take aim at only a few of the proteins involved in inflammation, leaving other “pathways” untouched. Taligen hopes to defuse the complement system at a more basic level, in particular by targeting “inhibiting factor B,” a protein that plays a key role in amplifying inflammatory response. As a result, the company hopes to merely tamp down activation of the complement system, not to block it altogether, which would likely leave individuals more vulnerable to infection.

Taligen’s drug candidates, which the company says will aim to treat both systemic and local inflammation, are still in preclinical development. That’s part of what makes the enormous size of the funding round such a surprise, since big bucks like these generally aren’t necessary until a biotech begins the expensive process of conducting human tests. In fact, though, the $65 million will be “tranched” and drawn down by the company only as necessary, so Taligen won’t have a huge pile of cash on its balance sheet until it’s ready to spend it.

Investors in the round included Alta Partners, Clarus Ventures, Sanderling Ventures, Tango and High Country Venture.

MAKO SurgicalMAKO Surgical sets IPO terms, seeks $94M for knee implants and robots – MAKO Surgical, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., maker of knee implants and surgical robots, set its IPO terms and now hopes to raise as much as $93.8 million in its IPO. The company hopes to offer its shares at a price between $14 and $16 apiece.

MAKO markets a minimally invasive knee-repair system consisting of implants and a robotic-arm surgical devices. The aim is to minimize trauma to the knee in arthritic patients who might otherwise be candidates for full knee replacement. The MAKO system instead allows surgeons to “resurface” worn and damaged bones and then install small implants to restore their function. The company first received FDA approval for an early version of its system in 2005, and just this month was cleared to market its second major upgrade.

The company is still hemorrhaging cash — it reported a $15.9 million net loss on revenues of $355,382 in the first nine months of 2007. Most of its revenue to date has come from sales of implants and other disposable devices. MAKO says it has received some revenue from sales of the full robotic-surgery system, but that it can’t recognize it until it delivers version 2.0 of its system. The most recent release is version 1.2.