Biogen’s Busy Week, Alnylam’s Big Announcement, Targanta’s and Momenta’s Growing Executive Ranks, & More Life Sciences News

3/5/08

Regular readers of Xconomy will have noticed that for a while now we’ve been doing (almost) regular roundups of the previous week’s news, focusing on financings, M&A, and other deals. But Boston being such a key hub for life sciences, we thought a separate, bio-centric roundup was in order. So welcome to Life Sciences Wednesday. No promises it will actually fall on Wednesday each week, but it will bring you all the recent news (not just deals news) on biotech, pharma, diagnostics, medical devices, and the like.

—Natick, MA-based Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) revealed in an SEC filing that the U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a civil investigation into whether the firm and other manufacturers promoted off-label uses of biliary stents.

—Regulatory filings, reported by Private Equity Hub, were also the source of the news that Boston-based Mascoma, which is developing genetically engineered bacteria to speed the conversion of cellulosic biomass such as wood chips into ethanol, closed a hefty $50 million Series C funding round. Mascoma itself remained mum, although Xconomy confirmed the story with a source close to the deal, which includes $30 million in equity and $20 million in debt and was evidently inked with General Catalyst Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vantage Point Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, Pinnacle Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and Flagship Ventures.

—Harvard Medical School professor George Church’s Personal Genome Project got an unrestricted gift from Google late last year, according to a Bloomberg report. The grant (the value of which was not disclosed) will go toward the PGP’s $1 billion effort to 100,000 individuals’ genomes.

—Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) announced what it said was the first evidence that a drug based on RNA interference, or RNAi, is effective in humans. In a Phase II trial, the drug reduced by 38 percent volunteers’ chances of becoming infected with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, when intentionally exposed to the virus.

—After months of lobbying by Governor Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts House finally passed its version of Patrick’s 10-year, $1 billion life sciences bill by a vote of 134 to 13.

—Gearing up for a hoped-for launch of its lead drug candidate next year, Cambridge, MA’s Targanta Therapeutics Corporation (NASDAQ: TARG) yesterday announced it’s hiring a Chief Commercial Officer and a Vice President and General Counsel. The former position will be filled by Mona Haynes, a veteran of Acusphere, Alkermes, and Baxter Healthcare; the latter slot will be filled by Daniel S. Char, who has served as counsel to Idenix Pharmaceuticals and Biogen Idec

—In other personnel news from yesterday, fellow Cambridge biotech Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MNTA) announced that it has appointed James M. Roach as Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Development. Roach previously was a senior manager at Sepracor, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, LeukoSite, and Astra USA.

—Finally, the past week saw a flurry of news about Cambridge, MA’s Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Last Wednesday, the FDA posted on its website a letter that Biogen and Ireland’s Elan had sent to physicians alerting them of the risk for liver damage in patients treated with Tysabri, a drug for multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. The risk had been discussed with the FDA and made public months earlier, but the new attention seemed to cause a little dip the company’s stock. On Friday, shares took about a $2 hit when Biogen priced $1 billion of senior notes. And yesterday there was a somewhat odd story in Reuters that cited an analyst report citing an abstract from an upcoming neurology conference that said that JC virus has been found in two Tysabri users; the virus can cause the deadly brain infection progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) but didn’t in these cases. (You may remember that Tysabri was temporarily pulled from the market a few years back after three of its users contracted PML.) The analyst retracted his report later that day, according to another Reuters story, after the medical association organizing the conference threatened legal action against his bank and others for violating an embargo on the conference materials.

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