The five hottest private biotech companies in San Diego

August 16, 2022 - 6 minutes

Within San Diego lies one of the biggest biotech hubs in the U.S. We’ve listed five private biotech companies in San Diego that have recently bagged major venture capital rounds.

Boasting sunny weather and beautiful beaches, the city of San Diego in California has grown into a huge center for biotechnology companies. It rivals other big biotech U.S. hubs including in San Francisco, Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, and Boston.

The San Diego hub is home to many prestigious life sciences institutions including the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Scripps Research and the Salk Institute. There are also many giants of the biotech and pharma industry with a presence in the area such as Pfizer, Illumina and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

There is a host of private biotech companies in San Diego working on world-changing innovations, with many based in the zone of La Jolla. They are fueled by investments from life sciences venture capital (VC) firms, including local players Boxer Capital LLC and Takeda Ventures Inc. One of the most exciting rising stars in the area is the drug developer Vividion Therapeutics, Inc., which was snapped up by Bayer AG for $1.5 billion in 2021.

Here we have listed some of the hottest private biotech companies in San Diego, with a focus on those that have recently raised massive VC rounds and are developing innovative technology in the life sciences space.

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      Artiva Biotherapeutics

      Founded: 2019

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      Artiva Biotherapeutics Inc. specializes in the development of cell therapies for cancer that are based on a type of tumor-hunting immune cell called natural killer (NK) cells. While approved CAR-T cell therapies for treating cancer derive their cells from the patient — a long and costly process — Artiva develops its NK cell therapies from the cells of donated umbilical cord blood, meaning that the manufacturing process is cheaper and the therapy can be delivered quickly to the patient.

      Artiva is funding the development of its cell therapies with the help of a $120 million Series B financing raised in early 2021. 

      The company’s lead candidate therapy is currently in a phase 1/2 trial for the treatment of a form of late-stage blood cancer called B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In this trial, the cell therapy is given either as a monotherapy or in combination with the antibody drug rituximab (Rituxan).

      Artiva’s other candidates include a CAR-NK cell therapy for the treatment of solid tumors — beyond the reach of current CAR-T therapies — and another for the treatment of specific forms of B-cell malignancies.

      Aspen Neuroscience

      Founded: 2018

      Aspen Neuroscience, Inc. was founded by a research group at Scripps Research. The firm develops cell replacement therapies that are personalized to individual patients with neurological diseases. The cell therapies are derived from the patients’ skin cells, which are then reprogrammed in the lab to become induced pluripotent stem cells, which can mature into new neurons.

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      Aspen bagged a cool $147.5 million in a Series B round in May 2022 with the mission to fuel the development of its lead cell therapy, which is designed to tackle Parkinson’s disease by replacing nerve cells that are killed off by the disease. The firm is making preparations to test the therapy in a phase 1/2a trial.

      While there are multiple stem cell therapies in development for treating Parkinson’s disease, many are sourced from healthy donors, which could lead to the immune system rejecting the graft. Aspen’s approach of sourcing the cells from the patient could avoid this immune rejection and make it easier for the graft to succeed.

      Another candidate in development at Aspen is a cell replacement therapy for Parkinson’s disease that has been genetically altered so that the cells don’t contain risk factor genes for Parkinson’s disease.

      Element Biosciences

      Founded: 2017

      The startup Element Biosciences is focused on the development of genetic analysis tools, with one of the main offerings being AVITI:  a benchtop sequencer that is designed to read DNA fast, cheaply and flexibly. This pits Element against DNA sequencing rivals such as its neighbor Illumina.

      Element Biosciences bagged a gigantic $276 million Series C round in 2021 to finance the development of its sequencing and genomics technology. 

      Genome sequencing has been getting faster and cheaper for the last few decades, and has been instrumental in uncovering the secrets of the coronavirus behind COVID-19 and unlocking the development of precision medicine in cancer.

      Element aims to foster the growth further. The firm acquired Loop Genomics earlier this year to expand the types of sequencing it offers. It has also partnered with many firms on genomics projects over the last years, with recent examples including 10x Genomics and Fabric Genomics.

      National Resilience

      Founded: 2020

      Also known as Resilience, National Resilience, Inc was founded in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the U.S. struggling to handle increased manufacturing demand for healthcare products. 

      Resilience bagged one huge Series C financing worth $600 million in 2021, and topped up in June 2022 with a jaw-dropping Series D round totaling $625 million. The company is using the proceeds to scale up its manufacturing muscle for cell and gene therapies. It also aims to harness cell-free technologies to produce cheaper biologic drugs such as antibodies.

      In August 2022, Resilience paired up with the nonprofit medical center Mayo Clinic to provide manufacturing services for biologic therapies such as treatments based on enzymes, blood, genes and genetically-engineered cells.

      RayzeBio

      Founded: 2020

      RayzeBio is a relative newcomer to the thriving field of radiopharmaceuticals. The firm raised eyebrows in 2021 when it raised a $108 Series C round to finance the development of preclinical-stage solid tumor treatments based on radioactive molecules such as actinium-225.

      The radioactivity released by actinium-225 has a very short range of just a few cell widths. When RayzeBio’s tumor-seeking drugs bind to a tumor target, the attached actinium-225’s powerful, short-range radiation can smash nearby cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue further from the tumor.

      In early August 2022, RayzeBio expanded a strategic partnership with the Japanese player Peptidream to co-develop radiopharmaceuticals that are made by attaching radioactive molecules to tumor-seeking peptide drugs.

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