Life sciences briefing: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

ngm-pharma-logo-150px.gifMetabolic-disease biotech NGM Biopharma raises $25M – South San Francisco-based NGM Biopharmaceuticals (Web site under construction), a biotech developing new drugs for heart and metabolic conditions, raised $25 million in a first funding round, peHUB reports. Investors included Column Group, Prospect Venture Partners and Rho Ventures.

NGM, currently helmed by Tularik founder David Goeddel on an acting basis, isn’t divulging much about its plans. According to VentureWire, the company is developing new treatments based on “post-genomic bioinformatics” (a virtually content-free buzzphrase if I’ve ever heard one) and “new approaches to human biology” (which isn’t much better). NGM plans to devote the funding to R&D spending over the next three years.

The company’s ties to the former Tularik — which was acquired by Amgen in 2004 — are worth noting. In addition to Goeddel, the company’s chief scientific officer, Jin-Long Chen, was formerly a VP of biology at Tularik, and then headed Amgen’s metabolic-disorders unit.

Heart, HIV drug maker Numerate acquires assets of Pharmix – I’ve updated this item and moved it into a standalone post here.

visigen-logo-150px.gifNext-gen sequencer VisiGen promises $1,000 genome by late 2009 – Does anyone else hear a bandwagon banging through town? Just three days after secretive Pacific Biosciences took the wraps off its high-speed sequencing effort, Houston-based VisiGen Biotechnologies laid down a new marker and said it plans to offer $1,000 sequencing of human genomes by the end of 2009 at the rate of roughly one genome a week.

The news, which comes courtesy of GenomeWeb, further turns up the pressure in the bragging-rights race to achieve the artificial “$1,000 genome” benchmark. More than a half-dozen companies have thrown their hats into the ring either explicitly or implicitly, each with its own complex approach to reading every one of the six billion DNA letters, or bases, in a human’s 23 pairs of chromosomes.

VisiGen was founded in 2000, and has received funding from Applied Biosystems and Houston’s SeqWright, as well as grants from the National Institutes of Health.

calcimedica-logo-150px.gifCalciMedica raises $5.5M for autoimmune drugs – San Diego’s CalciMedica, a biotech developing drugs for immune-related conditions, raised $5.5 million in a second funding round, VentureWire reports. Investors included Sanderling Ventures and SR One. We previously noted the startup’s first funding round here.

The company plans to attack autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis by targeting a “calcium channel” — that is, a cellular mechanism that moves calcium in and out of cells — in immune-system components that govern the body’s adaptive immunity. That arm of the immune system sometimes goes haywire, producing autoimmune disease in which the body’s defenses attack normal tissue. CalciMedica acquired technology and drug candidates for targeting that calcium channel from TorreyPines Therapeutics in May.