Sirtris Shifts Focus From Resveratrol, Merck Shifts People From Seattle to Boston, Epix Shifts Into Cost-Saving Mode, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

10/29/08

Boston-area life sciences firms were awfully busy last week, particularly the public ones—and it wasn’t even all bad news.

—New York-based Antigenics (NASDAQ: AGEN), whose operations are based mainly in Lexington, MA, announced that it’s seeking European approval for its vaccine-based treatment for kidney cancer, vitespen (Oncophage). The treatment is so far only approved in Russia.

—Wade posted the video of his fascinating chat with legendary biotech startup partners Robert Langer, an MIT Institute Professor and Xconomist, and Terry McGuire, managing partner at Polaris Venture Partners. Conducted at our September 23 forum, “How to Build a Life Sciences Company,” the conversation offered a uniquely personal take on life sciences company creation from one of the best teams in the business.

—Cambridge, MA-based Targanta Therapeutics (NASDAQ:TARG) released data showing that fewer doses of its antibiotic oritavancin—which is awaiting FDA approval as a treatment for skin infections—are as safe and effective as a three-to-seven day course of therapy.

Neuroptix raised $18.5 million in a Series B financing round led by Inventages. The Acton, MA-based startup is developing a non-invasive test that uses an eye drop and a laser scanner to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages.

—Ryan did some reporting (and a little eavesdropping) at the Boston Biotech R&D Conference, where he found the mood among local life sciences luminaries to be surprisingly optimistic. Christoph Westphal, one of the event’s organizers and the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris, revealed that his firm is shifting its focus away from the red-wine-derived compound, resveratrol, that helped propel the company to biotech stardom. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline, Sirtris will put more of its emphasis on a new set of compounds—more than 1,000 times as potent as resveratrol—that it’s developing as treatments for diabetes, neurological disorders, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

—Lexington, MA-based Epix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:EPIX) announced plans to cut annual expenses by about $3 million via a 23 percent workforce reduction and a “narrowing” of its R&D focus.

—Sermo of Cambridge, MA, teamed up with Bloomberg to give subscribers to the Bloomberg Professional information service read-only access to Sermo’s password-protected community of nearly 100,000 doctors. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

—Lexington, MA-based NitroMed (NASDAQ: NTMD) announced a plan to sell all the assets related to BiDil, its controversial treatment for African Americans with heart failure, to Parsippany, NJ-based JHP Pharmaceuticals. If shareholders approve the deal, NitroMed will get $24.5 million in cash for the assets, plus up to $1.8 million for existing inventory of the drug.

—Luke sat down with Kleanthis Xanthopoulos, the big-thinking CEO of Carlsbad, CA-based Regulus Therapeutics. Xanthopoulos shared his vision for the company—a joint venture of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) and Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS)—and its technology, which is based of the very young, very hot field of mircoRNA.

—Drug giant Merck revealed that it’s trying to lure about a third of the 300 employees from its soon-to-be-shuttered Rosetta Inpharmatics outpost in Seattle to a consolidated research center in Boston.

—Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) of Natick, MA, won FDA approval for a carotid artery stent designed to keep blood flowing from the heart to the brain in patients whose carotid arteries have narrowed. The approval came days after the FDA partially lifted a moratorium on approvals for Boston Scientific that has been in place for nearly three years, due to quality-control issues.

—Luke profiled the efforts of Rockland, MA-based Biosphere Medical (NASDAQ: BSMD) to sell doctors on a less invasive way to treat benign uterine growths called fibroids. The technique, called uterine fibroid embolization, spares women the pain and risks of traditional surgery, and Biosphere’s kit for the procedure has been approved since 2002, but clinicians have been slow on the uptake.

—Newton, MA-based biotech firm Clinical Data (NASDAQ:CLDA) acquired Germantown, MD-based Avalon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:AVRX) in an all-stock deal valued at $10 million.

—HealthCare Ventures of Cambridge, MA, took the lead in a $28 million Series B round of financing for Trevose, PA-based InfaCare Pharmaceuticals. Atlas Venture, Longitude Capital, and FirstMark Capital joined the round.

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  • David Randall

    Sirtris is shifting focus from resveratrol because they realize they can’t compete in the resveratrol market – it is not a patentable compound; they assert resveratrol is not powerful but smart people know the real reason for the shift. All the while, more and more research is emerging that indicates resveratrol is far more powerful and effective and at much smaller doses than Sirtris origionally reported. Glaxo may have very well overpaid for Sirtis.

  • http://www.resveratrol-wines.com Resveratrol wine

    I agree, resveratrol IS powerful in small doses and there is no need to make a drug 1000 stronger. 3 glasses of high resveratrol content red wine might as well do the trick.

  • http://www.resveratrolx.com Janet Bowens

    Resveratrol is part of a group on antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. Found normally and in minimal doses in red wine. Even though the benefits of Resveratrol capsules have been widely publicized up until recently, for decades Doctors around the world have recommended to drink 1 or 2 glasses of wine every day. Coincidentally in the Mediterranean countries, where drinking red wine part of the daily routine, have one of the lowest rates of heart diseases and serious cases of obesity are rare.

  • http://www.rezv-review.com Resveratrol under Review

    In my blog, it states that to get the same effect as 1 ResVerXP pill, you would have to drink a THOUSAND bottles of Red Wine. I’m sorry, but you’d be dead. :)

  • http://ResveratrolMX.com Jamews Vernon

    I was looking for a way to feel young and have some longevity. So you can imagine how I felt after finding Resveratrol… Didn’t believe in the fountain of youth but this is the next best thing!!! James Vernon