Life-science briefing: Friday, March 28, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

VaxGen, Raven Bio terminate merger agreement – A weirdly structured, always hard-to-understand merger between the failed vaccine biotech VaxGen and startup Raven Biotechnologies has collapsed. The two companies called off the combination after it became clear that a majority of VaxGen shareholders would reject it.

The deal aimed to create a new company out of VaxGen’s cash holdings and biomanufacturing facilities and Raven’s antibody-drug program, which remains at an early stage of development. The merger would also have given Raven a quick route to public listing of its stock. Both companies are located in South San Francisco, Calif.

But many VaxGen shareholders — in particular, the investment firm MedCap Management & Research, which waged a sharp effort to derail the deal — believed the deal undervalued VaxGen, which they figured would yield a better return to investors through liquidation. VaxGen, a once pioneering maker of experimental vaccines against HIV and anthrax that is now little more than an empty shell, said it would immediately assess its strategic alternatives, including possible liquidation.

aerovance-logo-150px.gifAerovance gets $20M in venture debt for respiratory disease – Aerovance, a Berkeley, Calif., developer of asthma and eczema drugs, took on $20 million of venture debt. The startup drew down $10 million of that sum at closing; the rest will become available once it achieves unspecified milestones.

A syndicate of lenders provided the funding, including Oxford Finance Corporation, Silicon Valley Bank and Comerica Bank. Aerovance, which spun out of Bayer Pharmaceuticals in 2004, said the funding would enable it to continue looking for a drug-company partner for its asthma drug and to pursue other “strategic goals.”

EKOS raises $5M for ultrasound catheters – EKOS, a Bothell, Wash., maker of ultrasound-enhanced drug-delivery systems, raised $5 million in new equity funding, peHUB reports, citing a regulatory filing. No investors were disclosed. As we wrote last June when the company raised $10 million in venture debt, EKOS makes catheters that use both drugs and ultrasound to break up blood clots.

Intelligent Bio-Systems draws $353K for high-speed genome sequencing – Waltham, Mass.-based Intelligent Bio-Systems raised $353,000 in a first funding round, peHUB reports, citing a regulatory filing. The company is developing next-generation DNA analysis systems and promises to deliver technology that can sequence a full human genome for just $5,000 in about 24 hours, as we described earlier.