Vertex Moves Hepatitis Drug Forward, Merrimack Rakes in $60M, Biogen and Icahn Trade Barbs, & More Life Sciences News

6/12/08

Much of the week’s life sciences news was dominated by the bickering of Biogen Idec and billionaire investor Carl Icahn. A few other interesting things happened, though. Those first:

—Merrimack Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, MA, revealed it had raised a tidy $60 million in a Series F round from Credit Suisse First Boston Next Fund, Crocker Ventures, HNI Holdings, funds advised by Noonday Asset Management, TPG-Axon Capital, and WT Investment Advisors Fund.

—Shares of Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) were boosted by the news that the company’s experimental hepatitis C drug, telaprevir, helped wipe out the liver-damaging virus in patients who had previously failed to respond to standard therapy. On the strength of that data, from a Phase II study, the Cambridge, MA-based firm plans to move the drug to Phase III testing for the same patient population by the end of September.

—MIT’s Robert Langer, a pioneer of drug delivery and tissue engineering technologies, won the $1.2 million Millennium Technology Prize, the world’s largest award for technology innovation.

—Codon Devices of Cambridge, MA, laid off some of its employees (we couldn’t confirm just how many) in an effort to “streamline” its operations. The firm’s plan is to put more emphasis on its synthetic biology program and less on manufacturing custom DNA for drugmakers and other biotech firms.

—Bedford, MA’s Hologic (NASDAQ: HOLX), which last year became one of the state’s largest life sciences companies with the $6.2 billion acquisition of Cytyc, grew a little larger. The women’s-health-focused firm inked a $580 million deal to buy Third Wave Technologies (NASDAQ: TWTI), which develops molecular diagnostics, especially for HPV, human papilloma virus.

Sirtris Pharmaceuticals officially became part of GlaxoSmithKline as the pharma giant’s $720 million acquisition of the Cambridge, MA-based firm—which went public just last year—closed.

—With Biogen Idec’s (NASDAQ: BIIB) annual meeting fast approaching, things are heating up in the proxy battle between the Cambridge, MA-based biotech and the investor who’d like to take over its board, Carl Icahn. First Icahn sent a memo to shareholders accusing Biogen of publicly misrepresenting how it conducted its failed sale process last year. Biogen dismissed the accusation as false. Icahn quickly followed up with a memo describing his plans for improving the company, should shareholders elect his slate of board nominees at next Thursday’s annual meeting. Top of his priority list: boosting R&D spending. Two investment advisory firms—RiskMetrics Group/ISS Governance Services and Glass, Lewis & Co.—then sent in reinforcements for Biogen, in the form of recommendations that shareholders vote for the company’s board slate and reject Icahn’s nominees. And just in case you wanted to know what impact investor takeovers like the one Icahn is attempting have on innovation, Luke put the question to a dozen business school professors.

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