It's a new year and new digs for Herbalife Ltd.

The maker of nutritional and weight-loss supplements last month completed the move of its headquarters from Century City to the AEG Building at downtown's L.A. Live.

Herbalife is the largest non-entertainment corporate tenant at the entertainment complex adjacent to Staples Center and the L.A. Convention Center. Space at the new corporate offices is better configured for training and general corporate activities. But Herbalife's backbone is its worldwide direct distributor network, and the company especially plans to take advantage of the location to impress and entertain distributors and clients.

"It's certainly going to be a destination for our distributors," said George Fischer, vice president for corporate communications.

Herbalife has a 10-year lease for 67,000 square feet on the fourth and fifth floors of the building, which includes the Grammy Museum and several restaurants and nightclubs as ground-floor tenants. Around 100 Herbalife employees work at the new site, with other employees who formerly worked in Century City relocated to another company campus in South Los Angeles.

The company began shifting activities downtown even before the HQ move. It trained and entertained 11,000 distributors at the Convention Center during its Herbalife Extravaganza in October.

Planning Ahead

MannKind Corp. is still roughly a month away from submitting its Afresa inhalable insulin system for U.S. regulatory approval. But the Valencia biotech already is looking ahead to a possible future as a commercial drug maker.

Just before Christmas, Calgary-based SemBioSys Genetics Inc. announced that MannKind was investing more than $2.5 million in the company. This deal gives MannKind an option to license rights to SemBioSys' plant-based human insulin for potential use in its Afresa inhaler.

"This is simply long-term strategic planning for us," said Harkam Edstrom, president of MannKind, whose founder and largest shareholder is billionaire Al Mann. But Edstrom said it is too soon to say whether MannKind might eventually acquire or obtain a controlling stake in the Canadian company.

MannKind's inhaled insulin system takes standard, fast-acting insulin and converts it into a fine mist that works more quickly to advert blood sugar spikes after eating. Afresa currently uses a generic, fast-acting powdered insulin made by a subsidiary of New Jersey drug maker Schering-Plough Corp. The contract for that insulin, created through fermented bacteria, runs through 2014, with the potential to extend it until 2016.

SemBioSys is working on a process to make insulin from a genetically engineered plant base that is less expensive than the bacterial process. MannKind's investment will provide SemBioSys with resources to demonstrate the approach is viable, Edstrom said.

Under the deal, MannKind is paying $500,000 for the option to license and also is buying 2.4 million units of SemBioSys shares at a price per unit of 83 cents. The option period ends March 31.

MannKind is on track to submit its Afresa application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by late January or early February, Edstrom said.

Happier Holidays

Amgen Inc. employees ended 2008 on a jollier note than a year ago.

The Thousand Oaks biotech not only submitted a potential billion-dollar blockbuster drug for FDA approval, but had a potential class-action lawsuit against it dismissed that might have further weakened its anemia franchise.

Amgen officials said Dec. 22 that the company had filed its application for permission to market denosumab to prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, and to patients undergoing breast or prostate cancer treatment taken together a huge group of patients.

The next day, a federal court in Los Angeles dismissed a lawsuit against Amgen and two kidney dialysis providers including DaVita Inc. of El Segundo that had alleged illegal promotion of Amgen's anemia drugs. The court said the complaint should have been made to regulators rather than a court.

This time last year, roughly 1,350 Amgen employees took buyouts or were laid off as the company reorganized in the face of slowing sales of Aranesp and Epogen anemia drugs. The company's market cap had fallen 33 percent as it added warning labels to say the drugs at high dosages could increase the chance of cancer or other life-threatening diseases.

The company's share price has largely recovered, up 24 percent since the beginning of 2008 as positive news about denosumab's late-stage clinical trials began dribbling out.

Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232.

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