Alkermes Aims for Big Time, Partners Launches Blood Pressure Tracker, Synta Gets GSK Payday, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

2/18/09

It seems like some of New England’s life sciences firms might have headed off for February vacation a little early this year, but a few of them still had news to report.

—Ryan took the pulse of SmartBeat, a new Web-based blood-pressure-management system developed by Partners HealthCare’s Center for Connected Health. Partners plans to use SmartBeat for its own employees, and is providing it for a fee to Hopkinton, MA-based EMC (NYSE:EMC) Partners is also weighing whether to spin the system off as an independent company or license it to another firm.

—Luke talked with the chairman (Richard Pops) and chief financial officer (Jim Frates) of Alkermes (NASDAQ:ALKS) and learned how the Cambridge, MA-based company, founded in 1987, is knocking on Big Biotech’s door. Having translated its technology for making existing drugs more stable and longer-lasting in the bloodstream into a host of partnered products that helped move the company into profitability, Alkermes is gearing up to develop and market drugs on its own.

—Speaking of Alkermes, the FDA said it needed more data before it could decide whether to approve one of the Cambridge firm’s big moneymakers, a long-acting version of the drug risperidone, as a treatment for bipolar disorder. This product is already marketed, under the name Risperdal Consta, for the treatment of schizophrenia. Alkermes partner Johnson & Johnson is evaluating the FDA’s request.

—Waltham, MA-based Oscient Pharmaceuticals said it would cut about 100 jobs, or 32 percent of its total workforce, or about 100 jobs, to conserve cash. The move is expected to save $8 million annually for Oscient, whose products include the cholesterol drug fenofibrate (Antara) and the antibiotic gemifloxacin mesylate (Factive).

—Framingham, MA-based cardiac-implant maker HeartWare International (ASX:HIN) agreed to be acquired for $282 million in cash and stock by Pleasanton, CA-based medical devices firm Thoratec (NASDAQ:THOR).

GlaxoSmithKline paid Lexington, MA-based Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:SNTA) $10 million for reaching a milestone in the development of elesclomol, which is in late-stage clinical trials for the treatment of metastatic melanoma. Including the latest payment, Synta has collected a total of $130 million from GSK since 2007 under the elesclomol deal.

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