RXi Tackles RNAi Delivery, Pfizer Launches A Two-Cambridge Stem Cell Effort, Archemix Plows An Alternative Path to the Public Market, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

11/20/08

The news was mostly good for Boston-area life sciences firms this past week, with some money raised, some deals done, and some intriguing new technologies unveiled.

—Luke talked to Tod Woolf, CEO of RXi Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RXII), about the tremendous challenge of delivering RNAi-based drugs—and how the Worcester, MA-based firm plans to overcome it. Its goal: an oral pill that uses RNA interference to combat inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, atherosclerosis, and Type 2 diabetes.

—New England Patriots owner the Kraft Group is reportedly looking for tenants for a 1.6-million-square-foot biotech office park it’s planning to build near Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium.

—Pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) unveiled plans for an independent research unit—located in Cambridge, England, and Cambridge, MA—aimed at developing stem-cell-based treatments for multiple diseases.

Ascent Therapeutics finally lifted the lid on its technology. Ryan learned that the Cambridge, MA-based biotech is developing a new class of molecules, which it calls “pepducins,” designed to target an important type of molecule on cell surfaces in a new way. The technology intrigued investors enough to help Ascent raise $19 million in a Series A venture capital round from the likes of HealthCare Ventures, Novartis Option Fund, and TVM Capital.

—Cambridge, MA-based ZafGen, which is developing fat-fighting drugs, raised $14 million in a Series B round from Third Rock Ventures and Atlas Venture.

—An FDA panel found in a 10-8 vote that Targanta Therapeutics (NASDAQ:TARG) has not yet proved that its experimental antibiotic oritavancin is safe and effective. Though the FDA isn’t bound by such panels’ recommendations it usually follows them, which means the Cambridge, MA-based firm’s application for approval of oritavancin is unlikely to succeed at this point. The news was a bit of a surprise, coming a few days after the FDA released briefing documents appearing to show that reviewers were favorably inclined toward Targanta’s application.

—Cambridge, MA-based drug developer Archemix, which pulled a planned IPO early this year, inked a deal to go public via a reverse merger with Lexington, MA-based NitroMed (NASDAQ:NTMD). The resulting company would keep Archemix’s name and headquarters, but would be led by NitroMed CEO Kenneth M. Bate.

—Ryan chatted with the CTO of Maria Health, a San Mateo, CA, startup trying to keep a low profile despite ties to some high-profile firms—such as Watertown, MA-based healthcare software company Athenahealth (NASDAQ:ATHN) and Yahoo. So far as Ryan could discern, Maria Health is building online tools to help patients manage their health care; Venrock and Athenahealth like the idea enough to back the firm.

—Cambridge, MA-based Elixir Pharmaceuticals reported positive Phase III clinical trial results for its treatment for Type 2 diabetes, a combination of the drugs metformin and mitiglinide that it plans to market under the name Metgluna. Elixir plans to submit the pill for FDA approval next year.

—In-Q-Tel, the venture wing of the U.S. intelligence community, made a strategic investment in Febit, a German maker of automated, microfluidic gene and RNA sequencing devices with laboratories in Lexington, MA.

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