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Valley-Area Biotech Start-ups Holding Their Own

Alan Herman, a former Amgen employee, and his business partner, launched Camarillo-based WindRose Analytica in May 2005. Their goal was to sell the biotech and biopharma analytics firm in five years time. The duo, which funded the start-up out-of-pocket, beat their goal by a year, and did it in the middle of the economic meltdown. San Diego-based biologics and pharmaceutical firm, Althea Technologies, acquired WindRose in May 2009. Details of the transaction were not disclosed. But, in negotiating the contract, Herman insisted that WindRose and its seven employees stay in Camarillo. “There are a lot of advantages to being acquired because we have a very capital intensive business,” said Herman, now vice president of product development and chief scientific officer for Althea. The Valley biotech start-up scene has changed quite a bit since the Business Journal’s last report on the industry in April 2008. Some companies have pulled out of the Valley, but others have commercialized products, been acquired, and/or secured additional venture capital. Commercializing energy crops Thousand Oaks-based Ceres, a company that uses plant breeding and biotechnology to develop dedicated energy crops for biofuels, commercialized its high-yielding switch grass cultivars and high biomass sorghum hybrids. The private equity-backed company, which has 100 employees, is selling energy crops to bioenergy companies in the U.S. It also established the largest field trial network for dedicated energy crops. “There are other biotech companies looking to get into this business,” said Ceres spokesman, Gary Koppenjan. “But Ceres has the early mover advantage; we were the first into the marketplace.” Koppenjan said the company is benefitting from federal efforts to spur clean energy development, because many end users of the energy crops are receiving federal funds. Ceres started as a plant genomics company. It operated in Malibu and eventually settled in Thousand Oaks. In 2002, Monsanto struck a $137 million licensing agreement with Ceres. Founders then applied their technology to the energy crop sector. KYTHERA secures capital Keith Leonard launched Calabasas-based KYTHERA Biopharmaceuticals in 2005, after a 13-year career at Amgen. The privately held company, which has about 30 full and part-time employees, is developing three products for use as aesthetic medicine. “When I started the company I was looking for where science and innovation could meet market demand,” said Leonard. “Aesthetics did not have a lot of scientific and clinical rigor, with the exception of products like Botox.” The company has secured more than $70 million in venture capital. Most recently, it received a $10 million infusion of venture capital in the third quarter of 2009, the only biotech company in the Los Angeles area to do so. KYTHERA has completed multiple Phase II trials for its flagship ATX-101 Adipolytic Therapy product and is working with the FDA to determine the next clinical step. The product is still several years away from commercialization, said Leonard. The company’s ATX-202 pigmentation modification product is in Phase I trials and Leonard expects to receive data by the end of the year. And ATX-104, a facial contouring product, is in the pre-clinical phase. Regulatory filings are underway. Leonard said nine months ago he was worried about where the market was headed. But financial statistics show while the aesthetic procedure industry dropped during the recession, it’s bouncing back pretty quickly. Symyx acquisition Byeong Chang, who worked at Amgen for 11 years, founded Camarillo-based Integrity Biosolution in 2003. The firm provides contract formulation research services to biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Symyx Technologies acquired Integrity Biosolution in an all cash transaction on August 14, 2008, according to Reuters. The acquisition expanded Symyx’s Research Service offerings in life sciences into biologic formulations, complementing the company’s chemical formulations services. “Together, IntegrityBio and Symyx will be at the forefront of large molecule contract formulation research and clinical fill/finish services,” said Chang at the time of the acquisition. He is now chief scientific officer of the Symyx Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization. And Symyx maintains a presence in Camarillo. Lean and mean John Philo and his business partner, both former Amgeners, founded Thousand Oaks-based Alliance Protein Laboratories in 1998. The firm provides contract research services and consulting in the areas of biophysical characterization, protein purification and protein stabilization. Many contract and research labs in the greater San Fernando Valley area have been hit by the down economy, said Philo. And some of the firms started by former Amgen employees have either left the area or shut down altogether. “There’s no question that other companies in the area want to grow, but the capital markets and interest rates have made it difficult,” said Philo. But Alliance is unique, he said, because it’s not a start-up looking to grow and be acquired or go public. It’s a self-funded two-person shop that has no interest in seeking venture capital. The company now serves close to 150 companies worldwide. “We’re unique because we have a niche,” said Philo. “We started off with two people and we kind of like it that way. We just wanted to do the things we like to do in the laboratory.”

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