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Biotech Launches Subsidiary to Produce Cloned Synthetic DNA

Synthetic Genomics Inc. in La Jolla has launched a new, wholly owned subsidiary called SGI-DNA that will allow customers to request custom sequences of DNA, and the company will synthesize the molecules for them.

The new company will expand upon Synthetic Genomics’ existing collaboration with Integrated DNA Technologies Inc., a Coralville, Iowa-based genetics company. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, but the companies will work together to produce and co-brand cloned synthetic DNA.

Fernanda Gandara, general manager of SGI-DNA and senior vice president for business development at Synthetic Genomics, said that the company partnered with IDT because of its existing manufacturing capabilities and its laundry list of clients from large companies and research institutions.

She said that the industries that are most interested in acquiring custom-synthesized DNA molecules for research are in the agricultural biosciences, biofuels, vaccines and therapeutics markets.

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The new company is setting up shop in a different building, but it’s a stone’s throw from “the mothership,” as Gandara puts it.

“The reason we’re starting a new company is that all of the information SGI-DNA deals with will need to be firewalled from Synthetic Genomics, to protect the sensitive information from our customers,” Gandara said.

The company was formed to leverage some of the key proprietary technology that Synthetic Genomics and its associated J. Craig Venter Institute have to offer commercially.

Synthetic Genomics, a privately held biotechnology company, was founded in 2005 by genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter and Nobel Laureate Hamilton Smith to advance genetics research as it impacts energy and the environment. It employs 120 in La Jolla, and the new subsidiary is in the process of hiring both research and business staffers.


Sophiris Bio Inc., a Canadian biopharmaceutical company with headquarters in La Jolla, has plans to raise nearly $75 million through an initial U.S. public offering by listing its stock on the Nasdaq, according to a regulatory filing. The startup is developing a treatment for an enlarged prostate.

Sophiris Bio relocated to San Diego from Vancouver in 2011. The public company already trades on the Canadian Stock Exchange, with shares hovering between $0.17 and $0.25 in February. Randall Woods, the company’s president and CEO, has an extensive history in San Diego biotech.

Woods was previously president and CEO of NovaCardia Inc., a San Diego biopharmaceutical company that developed drugs for cardiovascular disease. Under his tenure, the company was acquired by pharma giant Merck & Co. Inc. for $350 million in 2007. Woods has also served as chairman of the board of directors for life science industry association Biocom.

Sophiris Bio’s lead drug candidate, called PRX302, is designed to be less invasive than the existing surgical procedures that correct the condition, and it avoids the sexual side effects that existing treatments can cause. The company said that treatments for benign prostate hyperplasia are still in an underdeveloped market, but the condition effects more than 70 percent of men over the age of 60. Sophiris Bio plans to begin clinical trials in the first half of 2013.

The company is still pre-revenue, and none of its products have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It spent $13.5 million in research and development in 2012, and in its fourth quarter earnings report that it recently received an $8.3 million investment from its largest shareholder, global private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC. The firm holds a 52.3 percent stake in Sophiris Bio.


Ambit Biosciences Inc., a San Diego biopharmaceutical company that develops drugs for cancer and autoimmune disease, has also filed for an initial public offering. It plans to raise $57.5 million, according to a regulatory filing, to promote three drugs — particularly its lead drug candidate, quizartinib.

Ambit Biosciences partnered with Astellas Pharma Inc., a Japanese pharmaceutical company, to develop its lead drug candidate, quartzinib. The drug is currently in clinical trials in patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Astellas paid an upfront fee of $40 million to collaborate on the drug development, and Ambit can still receive up to $350 million in additional milestone payments.

This is the second time that Ambit Biosciences has filed for an IPO. In June 2011, the company withdrew its request with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with plans to raise about $86 million through an initial public offering. It said in a regulatory filing that the IPO would have been a discretionary financing, and that the terms available at the time in the marketplace weren’t attractive enough to proceed.

Send any news about locally based health care organizations, biotech and clean-tech to Meghana Keshavan at mkeshavan@sdbj.com. She can be reached at 858-277-6359.


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