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Life Sciences Reporter’s Notebook: Life Sciences Loads Up on VC Dollars

In San Diego, life sciences dominates in early-stage investment.

Looking at 2017 through this September — a 19-month period — San Diego-based life sciences companies pulled in $2.73 billion in venture capital, according to a recently released snapshot from JLL research. That represented 44.8 percent of venture capital in San Diego, more than the next three categories combined.

The sector has exploded this year.

In the second quarter of 2018, investment in San Diego-based life sciences companies hit an all-time high of $427.5 million. The third quarter has yet to be tallied, but easily set a record with Samumed’s $438 million round in August, along with other deals.

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Why so much activity? Oft-cited: Investors in venture capital funds are putting pressure on general partners to spend idle cash. San Diego has all kinds of innovative biotech in which to invest.

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Speaking of life sciences being hot, La Jolla-based Equillium intends to raise $86 million through an initial public offering, according to recently filed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission paperwork.

Equillium, which applied to list on the Nasdaq exchange under EQ, is developing treatments for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

This would mark the region’s third life sciences IPO this year. First came Crinetics, followed by Ra Medical. If you’re keeping score, last year had three local IPOs in the sector.

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Amid cash pouring into life sciences, Vital Therapies is a reminder of how tough the business can be.

After halting a treatment for acute liver failure, Vital laid off 83 employees, according to a state notice. The layoffs follow disappointing final-stage trial results of Vital’s liver therapy.

On Sept. 12, the San Diego company said its treatment would likely not be approved in the U.S. or European Union without additional clinical trials. Citing capital and time needs to continue, the company suspended the program.

In a letter a week later Vital informed the state of 83 layoffs, as required by the state’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) laws. The letter notes layoffs among 74 employees in research and development and nine in general administrative functions.

Vital did not return a request to comment.

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