Life-science briefing: Tuesday, March 18, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

luminous-medical-logo-150px.gifLuminous Medical raises $24M for automated glucose monitoring – Carlsbad, Calif.-based Luminous Medical, a medical-device maker, raised $23.5 million in a second funding round. Investors included Adams Street Partners, RiverVest Venture Partners, Finistere Ventures, De Novo Ventures and Latterell Venture Partners.

Luminous is developing an automated blood-sugar sensor for diabetic patients being treated in hospital intensive-care units and operating rooms. According to the company, keeping a tight rein on blood-glucose levels, which can soar or crash unexpectedly in diabetics, helps prevent complications while shortening hospital stays and reducing the risk of death.

Measuring such tight control, however, typically requires manually checking blood-glucose levels every 30 to 60 minutes, the company says. The Luminous device, by contrast, uses infrared spectroscopy — a technique that identifies particular molecules by measuring which wavelengths of light they absorb — to measure glucose and other blood chemicals non-invasively.

The company licensed its technology from InLight Solutions of Albuquerque, N.M., which previously invested $60 million in the technology. The device has not been approved by the FDA.

axial-biotech-logo-150px.gifAxial Biotech takes in $6M for spinal diagnostics – Axial Biotech, a Salt Lake City diagnostic-test maker, raised $6 million as part of its second funding round. Investors included Johnson & Johnson Development, vSpring Capital and Ohio Biotech Group.

Axial, founded in 2002 by a group of spinal surgeons and geneticists, is an odd hybrid of biotech and devices. The company aims to produce tests that will predict and measure the severity of spinal problems such as scoliosis, as well as unspecified “motion-preserving technologies” — presumably an alternative to the stigmatizing back braces that orthopedists have long inflicted on children with the condition.

engene-logo-150px.gifInsulin bioengineer enGene receives $6.4M – Canada’s enGene, a Vancouver biotech looking for ways to jump-start natural insulin production in diabetics, raised $6.4 million in a first round of funding. Investors included Saad Investments, Masa Life Science Ventures and private investors.

EnGene has an audacious — which is to say, of course, also quite chancy — approach to diabetes, in which the immune system attacks and kills insulin-producing “beta cells” in the pancreas (type 1 diabetes) or the body grows desensitized to insulin and requires higher levels (type 2 diabetes). In either case, patients often require insulin shots to maintain blood-sugar levels necessary or proper metabolism.

EnGene proposes to engineer cells in the small intestine — known as “K cells” — to produce insulin themselves. The advantage of this technique lies in the fact that K cells, like beta cells, respond to sugar levels in the gut, although they normally secrete a separate molecule. Once bioengineered to produce insulin as well, these cells could help regulate blood sugar automatically much the way beta cells normally do.

Of course, gene therapy has, in general, been a great disappointment so far, so there’s no shortage of uncertainty associated with this sort of technique. EnGene has tested its technique in mice, but not yet in humans. The startup plans to seek a second round of funding in the second half.

Alimera Sciences gets $30M for eye-disease drug – Alimera Sciences, an Alpharetta, Ga., drug developer with a focus on eye disease, raised $30 million in a third funding round. The company will now take a majority stake in its drug for diabetic macular edema, a vision-degrading complication of diabetes, which Alimera is developing with its partner pSividia.

We’ve written before about Alimera, which is presumably still contemplating an IPO this fall. All five of the company’s existing VC backers participated in the round: BA Venture Partners, Domain Associates, Intersouth Partners, Polaris Venture Partners and Venrock Associates.

ligocyte-logo-150px.gifVaccine maker LigoCyte draws $28M – LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals, a Bozeman, Mont., biotech focused on new vaccines against infectious disease, raised $28 million in a third funding round. Investors included Forward Ventures, JAFCO, Novartis Venture Fund, Fidelity Biosciences, MedImmune Ventures, Athenian Venture Partners and MC Life Sciences Ventures.

The company is developing new vaccines using “virus-like particles” — usually structural viral proteins, minus the replication machinery packed in DNA or RNA — against gastroenteritis, anthrax and flu. It is also working on antibody drugs against inflammatory disease.