Alnylam’s Spinoff Strategy, Genzyme’s Gaucher-Business Future, Adimab’s Antibody Ambitions, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

2/25/09

If you’re a fan or follower of New England’s life sciences industry we’ve got lots for you this week, thanks to some great in-depth reporting by Ryan and Luke.

—Luke gave a fascinating look at the strategy of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: [ALNY), a pioneer in the field of RNA interference, or RNAi. Alnylam CEO John Maraganore explained how he has become a fan of spinning off new companies to make the most of technologies related to RNAi after a successful experience of doing just that, in the form of Carlsbad, CA-based Regulus Therapeutics, which Alnylam launched with Carlsbad’s Isis Pharmaceuticals in 2007.

—Luke also got a briefing on the strategy of Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) from its CFO, Ian Smith. Vertex just announced a secondary offering of stock worth a tidy $320 million.

—Our Xconomist Forum had a visit from Susan Windham Bannister, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which is overseeing the state’s $1 billion biotech initiative. “Dr. Sue” gave the inside story of last month’s trade mission to the West Coast, which gave her, Governor Deval Patrick, members of his administration, and other emissaries from Massachusetts the chance to schmooze with local VCs, startups, and other industry representatives.

—Ryan took a trip of his own, to visit Lebanon, NH-based Adimab, a startup built around technology for streamlining the process of discovering antibody-based drugs. Adimab CEO Tillman Gerngross told Ryan that the company has no plans to develop its own drugs, and that he believes it can thrive on income from drug-discovery and licensing deals alone.

—Ryan also checked in with one of Adimab’s backers, Hanover and Portsmouth, NH-based Borealis Ventures. The firm was founded in 2001 to take advantage of opportunities to invest in companies coming out of Dartmouth College and other startups off the beaten path of Boston-area venture capitalists.

—Harvard spinoff Genocea Biosciences of Cambridge, MA, raised $23 million in a Series A round of financing led by SR One, the venture arm of London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline. New investors Auriga Partners, Cycad Group, and Alexandria Real Estate Equities and return investors Lux Capital Management, Polaris Venture Partners, and Morningside Ventures joined in backing the startup, which is commercializing technology for rapidly discovering new vaccine antigens.

—Cambridge, MA-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARIA) sold about $24 million worth of its common stock to new and existing institutional investors.

—Another Cambridge biotech, Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ), announced that its next-generation, oral drug for the rare genetic ailment Gaucher disease passed a mid-stage clinical trial. The drug is strategically important to Genzyme because patents on its current treatment for the disease, its top-selling product, will expire in 2010 and 2013. A late-stage clinical trial of the new drug is expected to begin in the middle of this year.

—Luke unraveled the twisting tale of Lexington, MA-based Microbia, one of a pair of companies to arise from work done at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge to understand how yeast turn into disease-causing organisms. Microbia is now using yeast as cheap factories for “greener” specialty chemicals, such as nutritional supplements, made from renewable materials instead of petrochemicals.

—Steven Tallarida, the CEO of medtech manufacturing and product development firm STD Med in Stoughton, MA, launched a new medtech investment firm, Makaira Venture Partners, with plans to raise about $50 million for its first fund. STD Med, which has for the last decade incubated and launched several Massachusetts medical devices startups, will house the new venture operation, and will provide Makaira’s portfolio startups with product development and initial manufacturing services.

—Chelmsford, MA-based Zoll Medical (NASDAQ:ZOLL) inked a deal to acquire the assets of Irvine, CA-based Alsius (NASDAQ:ALUS) for $12 million in cash. The California company makes devices that control body.

—Oxford Bioscience Partners general partner Michael Lytton left the Boston venture firm to take a post as executive vice president of business development at Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB).

—Watertown, MA-based HIV drug developer Panacos Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:PANC) announced it will close its Gaithersburg, MD, facility, cut its work force from 11 to four employees to conserve cash, and explore a sale of the company or its programs.

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