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Isis Eyes Tiger To Work With Government

Carlsbad-based antisense biotechnology firm Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. says it wants to supply the government with technology to detect infectious organisms.

Isis announced on May 23 during a Webcast that it plans to provide four “Tiger” biosensor systems this year.

The system’s specialty is to simultaneously sniff out thousands of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Other systems can detect only a few infectious agents at a time, Isis claims.

Isis’ big selling point is that the Tiger biosensor can even detect infectious organisms without knowing their identity, said Navjot Rai, an Isis spokeswoman.

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She used an analogy of a patient seeing a doctor to test for a suspected strep throat. When the test comes out negative, the doctor could use the biosensor to detect what causes the sore throat, and then prescribe the proper medicine, she said.

So far, however, Isis hasn’t sold a single unit. Isis built the technology with $40 million in government funding and expects to receive $9 million more, Rai said.

Isis’ marketing strategy calls for finding a partner to build and sell the Tiger system while Isis’ Ibis unit, which developed the system, would sell the consumables, the identification test kits, software and databases.

Besides targeting government clients, Isis wants to bring the system to pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and makers of diagnostic products.

Selling test kits alone could bring Isis revenues in the “hundreds of millions of dollars” a year, Rai said.

BioBridge Strategies, a San Diego-based consultant commissioned by Isis to evaluate marketing opportunities, projected Isis could place 500 units by 2009.

That would be good news for Isis.

The company’s leading antisense technology has yet to make a mark.

Isis recently landed pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. as a collaborator to move its drug discovery efforts forward.

Under the terms of the deal, which was announced May 24, Pfizer will pay a $1 million fee for access to Isis’ technology, and royalties on any drugs resulting from the deal.

Pfizer isn’t the first pharmaceutical partner Isis has landed since its founding in 1989.

Other collaborators have included London-based GlaxoSmithKline plc., New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson, Swiss-based Novartis AG, Thousand Oaks-based Amgen Inc. and Emeryville-based Chiron Corp.

Antisense is a radically different approach.

Compared with traditional drugs that bind to disease-causing proteins, antisense binds instead to the messenger RNA, which is the template for making proteins.

The idea behind antisense is to stop faulty proteins from being assembled in the first place and destroy them before they can do any harm.

So far, Isis has developed one product, Vitravene, an injectable drug for a rare AIDS-related eye disease.

Sales are slim and Isis continues to operate in the red. For the first quarter, it reported an operational loss of $23.5 million.

In January, Isis announced it would cut 40 percent of its work force to focus its resources on key programs. That came after Isis’ drug to treat Crohn’s disease failed in clinical trials.

Isis still has a lengthy pipeline of potential drugs.

In January, Isis announced its restructuring plan: landing a partner for alicaforsen enema, a compound for ulcerative colitis; starting a Phase II trial for a cholesterol compound; and running a Phase II trial for a Type II diabetes compound.

Isis’ stock, which trades on Nasdaq, rose 55 cents to close at $3.94 on May 25.

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Two San Diego-based biotechnology firms, Phenomix Corp. and Cylene Pharmaceuticals, recently announced they have raised millions of dollars.

Phenomix said May 24 that it raised $40 million in a Series B private placement, bringing the firm’s total funds raised to $65.5 million.

New York-based fund Baker Bros. Investments joined existing investors San Francisco-based Alta Partners, Sofinnova Ventures Inc., Bay City Capital Llc, CMEA Ventures, Australia-based GBS Venture Partners and Swiss-based Novartis BioVenture Fund, Phenomix said.

The company is working on experimental drugs to treat immune disease and metabolic syndrome.

Cylene said May 25 that it raised $26.3 in a Series B financing led by Los Angeles-based Coastview Capital Llc.

New investors include Cambridge, Mass.-based BioVentures Investors, Japanese fund Mitsui & Co., Venture Partners, TDL Investors, William Harris Investors, Scranton, Pa.-based Lakeview Capital Trading Llc and San Diego-based Viterbi Group LLc, led by Qualcomm Inc. co-founder Andrew Viterbi.

Existing shareholders include Sanderling Ventures of Menlo Park, Novartis BioVentures, IngleWood Ventures of San Diego, and Research Corp. Technologies of Tucson, Ariz.

Cylene will use its new cash to try to move its cancer compounds into clinical testing.

Contact Marion Webb at marionw@sdbj.com or call her at (858) 277-6359, Ext. 3108.


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