Life sciences briefing: Friday, Feb. 15, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

Q Thera takes in $15M for neural stem-cell treatments – Q Therapeutics, a Salt Lake City biotech working on neural stem-cell treatments for neurological conditions, has received the first portion of a $15 million second funding round. Investors in the round included vSpring Capital, Invitrogen, Epic Ventures, Toucan Capital, University of Utah Research Foundation, Salt Lake Life Science Angels and Q management.

Q is taking aim at diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy that result when the protective myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers and the spinal cord deteriorates, often for little-understood reasons. The company is developing neural stem cells that can produce new glial cells, which in theory should be able to regenerate the damaged myelin. (Irritatingly enough, the company insists on calling its product “Q cells.”) The company aims to begin clinical trials in transeverse myelitis, a paralyzing form of MS, next year.

Stroke clotbuster Concentric Medical withdraws IPO – Concentric Medical, a Mountain View, Calif., developer of medical devices for removing stroke-causing blood clots, withdrew its proposed IPO. The company becomes the eighth life-science startup to abandon an IPO this year.

Concentric, of course, cited “unfavorable market conditions” as the reason for its withdrawal. The device maker, which is still unprofitable, reported working capital and cash and short-term investments of $20.3 million at the end of June and has been burning cash at a rate of about $7 million a year, so it’s not necessarily in dire straits. Concentric, in fact, today announced it had arranged a $15 million line of credit with Horizon Technology Finance, giving it an additional cushion.

The company makes and sells a catheter-based device that can be snaked through a patient’s blood vessels to the brain in order to physically “grab” and remove stroke-causing blood clots. Although Concentric won approval for the device in 2004, sales have grown more modestly — in part, perhaps, because Concentric hasn’t undertaken the clinical studies necessary to demonstrate the usefulness of its technique compared to other treatments, and has no plans to do so. (The company listed this point as a risk factor in its SEC filings.) What’s more, the Concentric device can sometimes damage blood vessels in the brain; in one of two studies, almost ten percent of patients suffered a cranial hemorrhage.

Our previous coverage of the company is here.

avera-logo-150px.gifAvera recaps with $9M to relaunch human tests of GI drug – Avera Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego specialty pharma developing drugs against a variety of conditions, recapitalized with a $9 million “first” funding round, VentureWire reports. Such a recap usually amounts to a restart for a company, which in this case was prompted by a halted clinical trial of a drug for irritable bowel syndrome and overactive bladder.

Investors in the recap included all participants in the company’s previous funding round: Aisling Capital, SV Life Sciences, Aberdare Ventures, BioAsia Investments, H.I.G. Ventures, Montreux Equity Partners, Bay City Capital, BTG PLC, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, InterWest Partners, St. Paul Venture Capital and Windamere Venture Partners. The company declined to provide a valuation to VentureWire, but it’s almost certainly suffered a “down round,” or it wouldn’t be recapitalizing.

Avera shut down mid-stage trials of its drug, known as AV608, last year after animal testing turned up potential toxicity issues. The company has since redesigned the drug to eliminate a compound it called a “non-active metabolite,” and hopes to resume studies later this year. Avera had raised more than $72 million prior to the recap.

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