Vertex Cystic Fibrosis Program on the Rise, Biogen and Partner Fall on Tysabri News, Alnylam Stakes RNAa IP Claim, & More Life Sciences News

8/6/08

Last week was a mixed one for Boston-area life sciences firms—Biogen Idec got the news the market’s been dreading, while several of its neighbors announced pipeline progress.

—Shares of Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and Ireland’s Elan (NYSE: ELN) took a big hit on the news that two multiple sclerosis patients taking the companies’ drug Tysabri had contracted the rare and often fatal brain infection PML.

—Cambridge, MA-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI) started its first clinical trial of the oral cancer treatment IPI-493. The drug works by inhibiting the same protein blocked by another product in the company’s pipeline, IPI-504; that drug is further along in testing but must be delivered via injection.

—Infinity’s Cambridge neighbor Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) also launched a clinical trial of an oral cancer treatment, this one aimed at helping breast cancer patients whose tumors are resistant to Genentech’s Herceptin. Merck (NYSE: MRK) will give Ariad a $15 million milestone payment for starting the mid-stage trial.

—Governor Deval Patrick’s $1 billion life sciences initiative may have already created an environment tempting enough to convince Helicos Biosciences (NASDAQ: HLCS), a Cambridge maker of genetic analysis machines, to build its manufacturing operations in Massachusetts. So said Helicos’ president, Steve Lombardi, in an interview with Luke. And the company might soon be needing that manufacturing capacity, as it announced a new collaborator in Sweden and a new customer in the U.S.

—Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) is making headway with a drug for cystic fibrosis that would be the first of a new class that directly targets the mechanism underlying the disease, Luke explained. The Cambridge MA, company tends to get more attention for its hepatitis C drug candidate, telaprevir.

—Burlington, MA-based ConforMIS launched the third product in its line of made-to-order implants for minimally invasive knee surgery.

—Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), the Cambridge-based firm with a famous portfolio of IP covering drugs that work by turning genes off (using a phenomenon called RNAi) staked a claim to technology that could yield treatments that do the opposite. Alnylam licensed patents on the new approach, called RNAa, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the University of California, San Francisco, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

—Luke took the pulse of Navilyst Medical, a Marlborough, MA-based firm created when Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) shed its venous access and fluid management businesses in a $435 million deal with Avista Capital Partners. Navilyst is focusing on vein-tapping devices that can minimize the chance that IV lines will spread infections in hospitals.

—Lexington, MA-based Epix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: EPIX) inked a deal to sell up to $50 million worth of new shares to Kingsbridge Capital over the next three years.

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