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Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Acquisitions of Two Life Science Firms Lead to Local Layoffs

Two local life science firms, both acquired by global health companies, will lay off a total of nearly 200 employees this month.

Ardea Biosciences Inc., a biotech sold to Big Pharma for big bucks, will lay off up to 145 employees in San Diego and eventually close down.

The company was purchased by pharma giant AstraZeneca Plc for $1.26 billion in 2012, partly due to the promise of its lead drug candidate at the time, Zurampic.

As a subsidiary of AstraZeneca, the firm stuck around San Diego and eventually received FDA approval of Zurampic. The drug helps manage high uric acid in the blood for gout patients.

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AstraZeneca spokesperson Michele Meixell said the global firm is sharpening its focus in three main therapy areas, and gout doesn’t fit in the picture.

“As a result…we will cease operations at Ardea by early 2018,” Meixell said in an email. “We will be working closely with each employee to ensure they have the appropriate resource and support through this transition.”

Zurampic was approved in December 2015, and AstraZeneca sold rights to the drug to Cambridge-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals Inc. in April of this year. As part of the deal, Ironwood was to pay AstraZeneca up to $265 million in sales and milestone-related payments, along with tiered, single-digit royalties on product sales. AstraZeneca also sold rights to Zurampic in Europe and Latin America to German drugmaker Grünenthal for $230 million, plus tiered double-digit royalties on product sales.

Layoffs at Ardea will start in this month, Meixell said. A handful of employees will stick around until early 2018 to continue clinical work on a combination therapy of lesinurad (Zurampic) and allopurinol. After that, Ardea will shut down permanently.

“Ardea is proud of its many tremendous successes and we’ve appreciated great support from the San Diego biotech community,” James Mackay, COO of Ardea Biosciences, said in an email. “However, due to these business developments, Ardea will be implementing a phased reduction in workforce this summer and ceasing operations by early 2018.”

• • •

Ardea isn’t alone in cutting staff. Prometheus Laboratories Inc. is laying off 55 employees this month, according to a report filed by the company with the Employment Development Department in California.

Prometheus, a specialty pharmaceutical and diagnostic firm, employs roughly 500 people in San Diego.

The company was acquired by Nestle Health Sciences, a subsidiary of Nestle S.A., in 2011. Financial details were never disclosed, but analysts at the time estimated that the company sold for up to $1 billion.

Mary Wade, a spokesperson for Nestle Health Science, said the layoffs follow the divestment of the company’s irritable bowel syndrome drug, Lotranex, which it offloaded in late 2015.

“Regrettably, this resizing will impact some employees at Prometheus headquarters in San Diego and in the field force in various U.S. states,” Wade said in an email. “This move restores the operating position of the business, enabling it to focus upon the growth potential of its gastrointestinal diagnostics business.”

Wade said the 55 employees impacted by the layoffs are receiving severance arrangements, career transition support, and redeployment opportunities when appropriate.

• • •

But it’s not all doom and gloom in San Diego biotech. Two local stem cell firms, Cell Applications Inc. and StemoniX Inc., have joined forces to simplify mass production of stem cells needed for research.

The two firms are bringing together complementary expertise to cut down on man hours needed to create human-induced pluripotent stem cells (HiPSC). These kinds of stem cells are needed for basic cell biology and drug development research.

“The manual process of expanding stem cells is labor intensive and time consuming,” said Ping Yeh, StemoniX’s CEO and co-founder.

By bringing together the biomanufacturing expertise of StemoniX with Cell Applications’ stem cell bank, the two companies can create 1 billion identical HiPSCs needed for research in one week’s time.

“Our strategic partnership with StemoniX will facilitate large-scale HiPSC production and enable more research labs, regardless of size, to afford the large cell amounts and consistent quality necessary to advance scientific research,” said James Yu, co-founder and CEO of Cell Applications.

• • •

In other health care news, two San Diego health care executives have been inducted into the pantheon of EY Entrepreneurs of the Year: BioLegend’s Gene Lay and GreatCall’s David Inns.

An independent panel of judges chose six winners at an evening gala in late June attended by over 500 people at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar Resort Hotel. The winners were chosen from 17 finalists from 15 local firms. Collectively, these firms employ 2,700 people in San Diego County and had a combined revenue of more than $1 billion.

The EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards recognize entrepreneurs who “demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance, and personal commitment to their business and communities.”

BioLegend develops and manufactures reagents for biomedical research in immunology, neuroscience, cancer, stem cells, and cell biology.

GreatCall is a mobile virtual network operator targeting the aging population with mobile phones, health apps, medical alert devices, and other technology for active and independent living.

The other San Diego winners were Chief Executive Officer J.P. McNeill and Chief Operating Officer Nick

Fergis from RenovateAmerica, President Ben Hemminger from Fashionphile LLC and CEO Donald Ankeny from Westcore Properties LLC.

Contact Brittany Meiling at bmeiling@sdbj.com or 858-634-4625.


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