Sirtris Settles in at GSK, Alnylam Raises IP Questions on Bio Bill, Targanta Takes on Cubist’s Market, & More Life Sciences News

9/24/08

We were lucky enough to have both Luke and Ryan in town for a couple of days this week, so there was a bumper crop of up-close, in depth stories on local life sciences firms. Enjoy!

—Luke caught a glance of Lexington, MA-based Pulmatrix as the startup emerged from stealth mode. Drawing on the expertise of co-founder Robert Langer of MIT and David Edwards of Harvard, and with backing from Polaris Venture Partners and 5AM Ventures, Pulmatrix is working on an aerosol-based technique for protecting the lungs from a host of bacteria and viruses.

—Ryan checked in with Christoph Westphal, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris, which was acquired by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) in June for $720 million. Westphal explained the steps Sitris is taking to retain its autonomy and its employees—chief among them Westphal himself.

—John Maraganore, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based RNAi pioneer Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), told Luke about a potential side effect of Massachusetts’ 10-year, $1 billion life sciences initiative. Because of a pre-existing IP agreement between the University of Massachusetts Medical School lab of Nobel Laureate Craig Mello and Worcester, MA-based RXi Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RXII), Maraganore says, other companies (including Alnylam) could be blocked from getting a shot at licensing the discoveries funded by the state money. Alnylam has had “excellent conversations” with Susan Windham-Bannister, the newly hired CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, on whose shoulders it will fall to clarify the IP implications of the new bill.

—Luke explored the strategy of Cambridge, MA-based Targanta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TARG) in developing a single-shot version of its high-potency antibiotic oritavancin to challenge the likes of cubicin from Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST). The FDA expects to complete its review of what would be the first approved version of the drug—which requires a three-to-seven day course of treatment—by December 8.

—The U.S. District Court in Delaware ruled against Cambridge, MA-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) in its patent lawsuit against Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company. Amgen’s Enbrel doesn’t infringe on Ariad’s patent on reducing NF-(kappa) B activity, the court said.

—Underwriters of a stock offering from Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) exercised their over allotment option, bringing the overall size of the deal to 8.6 million shares worth a total of $220.0 million.

—Luke visited one-year-old Third Rock Ventures in Boston and learned all about the firm’s strategy of investing in unconventional approaches to disease and its “back-to-basics” approach to nurturing nascent companies. “In 20 to 30 years from now, we think we’ll be the fund you think of when you think of great life sciences venture funds. We think about pursuing big ideas and new frontiers,” said Third Rock co-founder Kevin Starr.

—U.S. Genomics, a developer of single-molecule technologies for biodefense and diagnostics in Woburn, MA, raised $4.5 million in private equity funding from, and formed a strategic partnership with, Becton, Dickinson & Co.

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