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Former Biotech CEO Accused in San Diego Shooting

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By Marie Powers
Staff Writer

The biotech world was stunned Friday morning when reports trickled out of San Diego that the former CEO of a failed biotech allegedly shot and wounded a former colleague and a brother-in-law in separate incidents before he was taken into custody by the San Diego Police Department.

Hans Petersen, who headed La Jolla, Calif.-based Traversa Therapeutics Inc., was booked into jail after the incidents involving scientist Steven Dowdy, a professor at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and inventor of Traversa's siRNA drug delivery technology, and Ronald Fletcher, the brother of Petersen's estranged wife.

The description of the crime reads like the script from a television drama. According to San Diego Police spokesman Kevin Mayer, Dowdy and his wife were in the bedroom of their La Jolla neighborhood home Wednesday morning around 3 a.m. PST when an unknown person, later identified as Petersen, fired a gun multiple times into the room. Dowdy was struck once in the lower back and transported to a local hospital. No other occupants were injured, and Petersen fled the scene.

Around 7 a.m., Petersen allegedly broke into Fletcher's home, located less than two miles from the Dowdy's residence. Mayer said Petersen shot Fletcher once in the stomach, but Fletcher was able to disarm his assailant. During an ensuing fight, Fletcher struck Petersen with the gun. When officers arrived, Fletcher and Petersen were still inside the house. Petersen was identified as the shooting suspect and arrested. Both men were transported to a local hospital, according to the police.

A handgun was recovered at the scene of the second shooting. Mayer said police "are doing an extensive check on the weapon" but declined to say whether the gun was registered to Petersen.

According to investigators, the relationship between Petersen and Dowdy began to sour after Petersen was fired by Traversa's board before the biotech folded, and Petersen "blamed Dowdy." Police suggested Fletcher was targeted for his role in the marital separation between his sister and Petersen. Divorce proceedings began last year but the couple remains legally married.

Both injured men are expected to recover and have talked with police, Mayer said.

Petersen, who lives some seven miles from the shooting scenes, was treated and released from the hospital. According to Mayer, he was arrested for three counts of attempted homicide, one count of residential burglary, one count of shooting at an occupied dwelling and two counts of California Penal Code Section 12022.53(d), which refers to the commission of a felony involving discharge of a firearm and causing "great bodily injury" or death and carries an additional and consecutive prison term of 25 years to life over and above other charges.

Petersen's vehicle, described as a 2007 335i BMW, also was recovered and impounded by the police. Mayer declined to divulge whether Petersen had previously been arrested or cited by San Diego police.

Petersen's arraignment was set for Friday afternoon in San Diego Superior Court, but his public defender asked the court to delay arraignment until Monday afternoon, and the court agreed, according to Steve Walker, a spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney. No reason was given in open court.

Petersen was to remain in custody without bail until the arraignment, when formal charges are expected to be filed, Walker added.

Traversa had a six-year run that ended in April 2012 with the liquidation of the company following a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

Founded in July 2006 and based on intellectual property (IP) developed by Dowdy and his research group at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and UCSD, Traversa raised a $2 million financing in 2008 and was "on fire" in developing siRNA drug delivery technology, Hans Petersen told BioWorld Today at the time. (See BioWorld Today, April 9, 2008.)

Fourteen months later, Traversa snagged a $5 million Series B led by Morningside Venture Investments Ltd. and joined by Mesa Verde Venture Partners and existing investors. (See BioWorld Today, April 3, 2009.)

(The article was modified on June 13, 2014 to remove certain statements about Scott Petersen.)