Biogen Idec Makes Controversial Tysabri Decision, Boston Scientific Explains Stock Sales, Charles River Heads to China, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

10/16/08

There was not one venture financing among Boston-area life sciences firms that I could find this week, but plenty of news nonetheless.

Luke took a look at Provasculon, the second company to be taken under Biogen Idec’s (NASDAQ: BIIB) wing at its Cambridge, MA-based incubator. Formed around research from Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Provasculon is aiming to develop drugs that help stimulate the growth of new blood vessels after they’ve been damaged by a heart attack.

—Natick, MA-based Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) went into PR-damage-control mode after co-founders Pete Nicholas and John Abele involuntarily sold off about 13 million of their shares of company stock in one day as part of an automatic share-selling plan. The company later explained that 31 million of Abele’s and Nicholas’ shares had been sold that week through the automatic plan, and that further sales were possible. Both founders expressed regret about the sales. Boston Scientific CEO James Tobin, meanwhile, exercised $2.1 million worth of options on company shares, reportedly as an “an expression of confidence in the company.”

—Luke orchestrated a conversation with Roger Tung, the CEO of Concert Pharmaceuticals, a Lexington, MA-based startup whose strategy of taking existing drugs and replacing a few of the hydrogen atoms with deuterium atoms has yielded potential treatments for menopausal hot flashes and HIV.

Ryan checked in with Mark Benedyk, the new head of Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) incubator in La Jolla, CA. Though the previous incubator chief had made public comments about launching a second Pfizer incubator in the Boston area, Benedyk said he wants the incubator to be a virtual entity in markets outside of its San Diego base.

—Lexington, MA-based Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SNTA) earned $25 million from GlaxoSmithKline for reaching milestones in development of the cancer drug elesclomol, which is in late-stage trials as a treatment for metastatic melanoma.

RXi Pharmaceuticals obtained a worldwide license from the University of Massachusetts Medical School for technology for the oral delivery of treatments based on RNA interference. The Worcester, MA, firm, co-founded by the medical school’s Craig Mello, focuses exclusively on RNAi-based drugs.

—Biotech veteran Keith Dionne, the former CEO of Alantos Pharmaceuticals, took the reins as president and CEO of Boston’s Surface Logix, a privately held developer of small-molecule drugs.

—Cambridge, MA-based Targanta Therapeutics announced it has a date (November 19) to make the case to the FDA for approval of its antibiotic, oritavancin, for hard-to-treat skin infections. The FDA has until December 8 to review Targanta’s application for the drug, which would be its first marketed application.

Biogen Idec found itself the subject of much debate when it denied the request of a dying cancer patient—a famous trial attorney and Democratic fund-raiser—for access to Tysabri, a drug currently only approved for treating multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Luke explained the complicated circumstances of the case, and the reasoning behind Biogen’s decision. Be sure to read readers’ comments as well; the discussion is getting really interesting.

—Wilmington, MA-based Charles River Laboratories International (NYSE:CRL) said it’s opening a 60,000-square-foot pre-clinical facility in Shanghai to support the global drug-development needs of its clients.

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