Life-science briefing: Tuesday, March 11, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

affinergy-logo-150px.gifAffinergy gets $3M in grants for biological “linkers” – Affinergy, a Duke University spinout in Research Triangle Park, N.C., received grants worth more than $3 milllion to support development of biological “linker” molecules with potential uses in coatings for medical devices and the development of new therapeutics. The grants were awarded by the federal National Institutes of Health through its small-business innovation research program.

The startup is developing biological molecules that can selectively bind various substances to particular surfaces. Such linkage molecules could, for instance, attach healing growth factors to surgical meshes or other implanted biomaterials or help target drugs at particular cell-surface proteins. The company hasn’t described its goals in much detail, although it said one of the grants is for work aimed at accelerating a patient’s natural healing process.

eusa-logo150px.gifSpecialty pharma EUSA raises $50M, spends $23M for public biotech Cytogen – In today’s man-bites-dog news, the venture-backed specialty pharma EUSA Pharma agreed to acquire the publicly traded biotech Cytogen for $22.6 million. The EUSA release is here; Cytogen has its own release here.

In one sense, the news isn’t terribly surprising, as Cytogen effectively put itself up for sale last November when it announced it was “reviewing strategic alternatives.” The twist here is that EUSA is taking the biotech private — a sign of just how far Cytogen’s fortunes have fallen since the heady days of the 1999-2000 biotech bubble, when its stock almost touched $200 a share. EUSA, which has offices in Doylestown, Pa., and Oxford, England, is offering 62 cents a share, a 35 percent premium over Cytogen’s closing price yesterday of 46 cents.

On the business front, however, it’s hard to say that the combination will be much more exciting than either company has been individually. Both EUSA and Cytogen traffic in a range of largely unrelated drugs for pain and cancer treatment.

EUSA raised $50 million to finance the cash transaction, for working capital and to restructure Cytogen. Investors included TVM Capital, Essex Woodlands, 3i, Goldman Sachs, Advent Venture Partners, SV Life Sciences, NeoMed and NovaQuest.

Calderome takes in $12M for cancer diagnostics – Calderome (no Web site), a South San Francisco, Calif., developer of cancer diagnostics, has taken in $11.9 million of a $23 million first funding round, peHUB reports. (peHUB identifies the company as located in Menlo Park, Calif., but two Calderome job postings on Biospace indicate its headquarters are actually in South San Francisco.)

In fact, I’m loving job listings at the moment, because the company also advertised one of those positions on Craigslist here. According to that listing:

Calderome, Inc. is an early stage cancer diagnostics company addressing the emerging opportunities in personalized medicine. The Company’s strategic vision is to develop a novel molecular cytology approach to improve the diagnosis of cancer, saving patients thousands of unnecessary surgeries every year. The company has spent the last year validating its business model with key stakeholders: physicians, patients and payers and has recently closed a significant round of private equity financing with premier venture capital investors….

In other words, it sounds very much like the company is developing a cell-based diagnostic, possibly involving a test that can pick up tumor cells that circulate in the bloodstream, that can help diagnose cancer without the need for invasive biopsies. That’s merely speculation, however.

Investors in the round include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, TPG Biotechnology Partners and Versant Ventures.