San Diego Business Journal

Four nationally known local research institutes have formed the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium, which will support ethical conduct of science in stem cell and other research.

The Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Scripps Research Institute and UC San Diego have established a program for ethics teaching, outreach and review.

The new consortium will complement the training already in place through the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, which was formed by all four institutes several months ago.

The consortiums will offer training programs for scientists. Mary Devereaux, a bioethicist with UCSD's Research Ethics Program, will conduct much of the training.

"We have a responsibility to the taxpayers," Devereaux said. "Conducting stem cell research is a privilege. The citizens of California have given us the resources. It is our duty to use (them) responsibly."

The new program is being funded by money granted to the university for stem cell research, but the training will focus on all aspects of science ethics.

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Optimer Cuts IPO Price: Optimer Pharmaceuticals Inc., an early stage biotechnology firm working on an antibiotic to treat diarrhea, said the share price for its initial public offering was $7 per share , down from its estimate of $12 to $14.

The company offered 7 million shares of common stock and will be listed on the Nasdaq under the symbol OPTR.

In 2003, the company received a fast-track designation for its drug, Difimicin. A fast-track designation is meant to expedite the review of new drugs intended to treat serious or life-threatening conditions and that demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs.

According to the company, the illness is a major cause of long-term care in hospitals worldwide. The drug is now in late stage clinical trials. The firm has said it is hoping for a 2007 launch of the drug. Optimer also researches drugs to treat cancer and osteoarthritis.

Founded in 1998, Optimer has offices in San Diego and Taiwan with a combined employee count of more than 30.

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Also On The Fast Track: Biogen Idec has received both fast-track and orphan drug designations for a potential cancer drug, lumiliximab, which it makes in its San Diego plant.

Biogen Idec is based in Cambridge, Mass., but it has 400 employees in San Diego.

If the drug is approved, the orphan status will give Biogen Idec seven-year market exclusivity.

Lumiliximab could treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Biogen Idec made the announcement Feb. 7, and said lumiliximab has recently begun clinical trials.

The company hopes to review initial results from the trial by September 2008 and submit a Food and Drug Administration application in 2009.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer that starts in lymphocytes, or white blood cells, of the bone marrow. It then invades the blood and can spread to the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and other parts of the body. About 77,000 Americans currently live with this cancer, and about 10,000 new cases are expected to occur in the United States this year. A similar number of cases occur in major European markets, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, according to Biogen Idec.

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Proacta Raises $35M: Proacta Inc. completed a $35 million series B financing Feb. 7. The biotech firm will use the funds to propel its cancer drug candidate, for now called PR-104, through the next stage of testing.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Clarus Ventures led the financing round, with Menlo Park-based Delphi Ventures also participating.

San Diego-based Proacta was founded by cancer researchers and professors at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Bill Denny and Bill Wilson.

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A Plastic Deal: Carlsbad-based Plastics Engineering and Development Inc. acquired San Marcos-based Nytronics, a plastic injection molding company, for cash. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Plastics Engineering and Development is a custom injection molder of medical devices and electronic components. The acquisition gives the firm an expanded customer base and alleviates production capacity constraints that Nytronics faced, said Jack Sparacio, Plastics Engineering's president and chief executive officer.

Contact Katie Weeks with biotechnology news at kweeks@sdbj.com , or call her at (858) 277-6359.