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Regulus Strikes Out On Its Own, J&J Seeks “Enlight”-enment, Synta Awaits Melanoma Data, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

There were some interesting M&A developments this past week involving or potentially affecting Massachusetts life sciences firms. Those, and the rest of the week’s news, below.

—Regulus Therapeutics, a joint venture of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) and Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISISI), unveiled plans to raise “a very respectable amount” of capital from private investors and reorganize as an independent corporation. The company was formed about a year and a half ago to develop drugs based on microRNA, tiny RNA fragments that affect the behavior of gene networks and which could be useful in treating diabetes, heart failure, and other complex diseases.

—Antiviral drug developer Panacos Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:PANC) of Watertown, MA, sold its HIV drug candidate, bevirimat, to Salt Lake City, UT-based Myriad Pharmaceuticals for $7 million.

—Boston’s Enlight Biosciences added healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) to the roster of partners who back its efforts to advancing new technologies for use in the discovery and development of drugs. J&J agreed to invest up to $13 million in Enlight’s programs.

—Cambridge, MA-based Stromedix won patent protection for its technology for blocking fibrosis, an underlying process in different types of organ failure. The startup acquired the anti-fibrosis technology from Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB).

—Omni Life Science of Raynham, MA, joined with Enztec of Christchurch, New Zealand, to form a new company, called Orthopaedic Synergy, of which Omni and Enztec will both be wholly owed subsidiaries. The new firm also raised $4.8 million of a Series A financing from Pioneer Capital Partners of Auckland, New Zealand, and its limited partners, and plans to bring the round up to $6 million with an additional contribution from Birnie Capital Partners, also of Auckland, in March.

—New Haven, CT-based antibiotic developer Rib-X Pharmaceuticals raised $25 million in a debt financing from Warburg Pincus, ABS Ventures, Axiom Ventures, EuclidSR Partners, MedImmune Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners, SR One, and Vox Equity Partners. Ryan talked with Rib-X CEO Susan Froshauer about the prospects for the company’s lead antibiotic, delafloxacin, which is being tested as a treatment for skin and tissue infections caused by MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

—Forma Therapeutics of Cambridge, MA, inked a deal with Lexington, MA-based Cubist (NASDAQ:CBST) worth $14 million over the next three years and up to $54 million more in milestone payments. Under the agreement, Forma will use its combination of screening technology, computer modeling, and chemistry to discover new antibacterial compounds.

—Waltham, MA-based Altus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALTU) revealed in a regulatory filing it is eliminating 107 jobs, or 75 percent of its workforce. It also plans to halt development of its cystic fibrosis drug, Trizytek, and return the rights to the drug to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

—Luke profiled Lexington, MA-based Synta Pharmaceuticals’ efforts to develop a drug that can slow the spread of metastatic melanoma, a notoriously difficult cancer to treat. Synta (NASDAQ: SNTA) is awaiting results from a final-stage clinical trial of the drug, elesclomol, and could apply for FDA approval before the end of this year.

—Ryan examined the possible impact on the Massachusetts life sciences sector of Pfizer’s $68 billion proposed acquisition of Wyeth. On the one hand, sources told him, the completion of the deal would mean that local biotechs have one less big pharma company to partner with or be acquired by. On the other hand, predicts Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the merger could result in increased activity in Massachusetts of both firms—which would likely benefit the state.

—Shares of Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) climbed on the news that Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) had discontinued development of an treatment that stood to challenge Genzyme’s kidney drug franchise. Genzyme’s sevelamer (marketed as Renagel and Renvela) is projected to generate $833 million in sales this year.

—Lexington, MA-based NitroMed (NASDAQ:NTMD) agreed to be acquired for 80 cents per share in cash by investment firm Deerfield Management—rather than completing previously announced deals to sell BiDil, its treatment for heart failure in African Americans, to specialty drugmaker JHP Pharmaceuticals and to merge with Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Archemix. The buyout offer, which must still be approved by NitroMed shareholders, values the Lexington firm at about $36.8 million.

—Wade got the inside scoop on the demise of medical-implant maker Innovative Spinal Technologies of Mansfield, MA. Citing management decisions rather than the market as a cause of the company’s woes, a former IST employee said that the company shuttered operations and filed for bankruptcy after a proposed sale of the company fell through. IST had raised almost $75 million in venture and private equity funding since its founding as a spinoff of the Texas Back Institute in 2002.