Nine Bay Area Biotechs Vie to be the “Next Genentech”

Published: May 26, 2016

Nine Bay Area Biotechs Vie to be the “Next Genentech” May 24, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Genentech should pat itself on the back, because an awful lot of biotech companies want to be “the next Genentech.” And why not? Generally considered the first real biotech company, Genentech turned 40 this year, and employs around 13,000 people, has 35 products on the market, and as a part of the Roche Group, is worth billions of dollars.

That said, what other Bay Area biotechs, according to the San Francisco Business Times, have the potential to become powerhouses?

BioMarin Pharmaceutical

BioMarin Pharmaceutical , located in San Rafael, California, is a leader in the rare disease space. The company has five drugs on the market, although this year it’s application Kyndrisa (drisapersen) for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) was turned down by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the company, which has been a rumored takeover target, has been expanding in recent years in San Rafael, where it is currently building out its headquarters and adding more research space.

Calico Life Sciences

South San Francisco-based Calico Life Sciences , is a healthcare research & development spinoff of Google/Alphabet. At its core, the company is involved in research into extending and controlling lifespan and other age-related diseases. The company, like most of Google/Alphabet’s spinoffs, is secretive. The San Francisco Business Times notes that, “It signed publicly vague research deals with Novato’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the University of California’s QB3 institute, and it inked another deal with UC San Francisco researcher Peter Walter that focuses on modulators of the cellular integrated stress response, which may contribute to memory decline.”

Gilead Sciences

Gilead Sciences , headquartered in Foster City, is best known for its HIV/AIDS drugs and hepatitis C treatments. It would seem that Gilead has its afterburners firing if it’s actually in pursuit of Genentech. In the last 15 years, it’s gained more than 4,930 percent. Sales are down somewhat on the company’s HCV drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni, but in the battle for hepatitis C against AbbVie ’s Viekira Pak, Gilead seems to have won. Currently, the company is reported to be looking for a strategic acquisition, possibly in the oncology space.

NGM Biopharmaceuticals

NGM Biopharmaceuticals, in South San Francisco, is led by former Genentech staffers. Dave Goeddel, the company’s chairman, was the first staff scientist at Genentech and the company’s president, Jeff Jonker, was in the business development and legal groups. The San Francisco Business Times writes, “But it’s more than lineage that makes NGM a next-Genentech candidate; the company has been deliberate over its nine years to listen to where the science is taking it. NGM has five clinical trials under way, including one with NGM-282 in the ‘fatty liver’ diseases known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.”


OncoMed , is located in Redwood City, and was founded in 2004 by two University of Michigan researchers, Michael Clarke and Max Wicha. At the company’s recent first-quarter financial reporting, the company reported $193.5 million in cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments. And the company is using that money to drive clinical trials for six oncology drug candidates. It expects to file two INDs soon, with one by the end of the year. And if its collaborations with GlaxoSmithKline , Bayer and Celgene bear fruit, the company could receive billions of dollars in milestone payments.

Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical

Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical is another rare-disease company. Formed in 2010 by former BioMarin chief medical officer, Emil Kakkis, the company has three drugs in four late-stage clinical trials. Although the diseases are rare enough that most people have never heard of them, X-linked hypophosphatemia, Sly syndrome and hereditary inclusion body myopathy, pricing for rare diseases tends to be very high. And with little competition for treatments, payers are obliged to flip for the bill.

Verily Life Sciences

Verily Life Sciences , another Google/Alphabet company, comes with all the expectations of a Google moonshot project, as well as some of the baggage. Reportedly there is some internal turmoil related to the company’s boss, Andrew Conrad. Verily has a broad focus, in this case, some murky attempts to merge big data and healthcare, while also developing various biological data monitors, such as a contact lens that can monitor a diabetic’s blood glucose level. But the company has numerous collaborations, including seven medical partnerships, two research projects and one acquisition.

Audentes Therapeutics

Audentes Therapeutics, located in San Francisco, recently filed to go public. The company focuses on gene therapy. In Oct. 2015 the company raised $65 million in Series C financing. On May 4, 2016, the company announced a collaboration with the Orphan Disease Center at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania to develop AT342, an AAV gene therapy for Crigler-Najjar Syndrome, a rare, inherited metabolic liver disease.

Denali Therapeutics

And finally, Denali Therapeutics, launched by three former Genentech employees, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Alex Schuth and Ryan Watts, focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. The company also received an investment of $153 million by the Alaska Permanent Fund, which invests state oil revenue into long-term investments.

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