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Danish Drug Maker to Pursue Partnerships Through Subsidiary

A Danish drug maker that produced the first microRNA drug candidate to enter the clinic last year said it has set up a local subsidiary where it will seek partnerships in the U.S. and Asia.

“We’re building a U.S. subsidiary of Santaris Pharma focused on looking for new therapeutic agents that work through RNA,” said Art Levin, a former Isis Pharmaceuticals executive who will serve as president of its domestic operations.

Levin, who spent a dozen years as head of drug development at Isis, said he’s hoping to usher in partnerships with some of the industry’s major players in need of RNA expertise.

RNA therapies have attracted a great deal of interest in the scientific community for their ability to tackle the root cause of many illnesses. Since micro & #173;RNAs involve whole networks of genes, a drug with precise targeting abilities could pack a powerful punch.

“We’re learning there are potentially new applications every day,” Levin said.

Two years ago, Carlsbad-based Isis and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals of Massachusetts launched Regulus Therapeutics, a joint venture focused on microRNA therapies.

Santaris, which has 70 employees and expects to hire eight to 10 in its new San Diego offices, aims to capture a fair share of the market.

“We think, at the moment, we are very much the technology of choice for RNA targeting therapeutics,” Levin said.

Earlier this year, Santaris formed partnerships with Shire Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom and New Jersey-based Wyeth. Combined with existing partnerships it struck with GlaxoSmithKline and Enzon Pharmaceuticals, Santaris counts a potential $2 billion worth of deals if it hits all its milestones.

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Gen-Probe Streamlines Operations:

Gen-Probe, one of San Diego’s largest life sciences companies, said last week it would shed an industrial division focused on detecting impurities in water, food and biotech drugs.

In order to focus on its core business, test kits that detect sexually transmitted diseases and impurities in donated blood, Gen-Probe will spin off industrial assets as the newly formed Roka Bioscience.

Gen-Probe said it will initially own 19.9 percent of the new company. It will also receive royalties on any potential Roka product sales.

The privately held company will temporarily operate out of Gen-Probe’s headquarters, according to spokesman Mike Watts. It will be staffed with 18 former Gen-Probe employees and led by former LifeCell CEO Paul Thomas.

Send biotechnology news to Heather Chambers at hchambers@sdbj.com.

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