ImmunoGen Drug Nears Finish Line, Surface Logix Latches Onto $20M, Athenahealth CEO Bush Talks Stimulus, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

3/11/09

It was nice to see a little venture activity among New England’s biotechs this past week, but overall things have been relatively quiet.

—Regulus Therapeutics, a Carlsbad, CA-based spinoff of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), took a step toward greater independence with $20 million in Series A financing from Alnylam and Carlsbad’s Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISIS), which joined with Alnylam to form Regulus in 2007. Regulus, which is working to develop drugs based on the relatively new field of microRNA, also changed its corporate status from an LLC to a C-corporation to pave the way for contributions from outside investors down the road.

—Acusphere (OTC:ACUS) of Watertown, MA, revealed plans to move its headquarters from there to Tewksbury, MA, and to cut 40 jobs, representing about two-thirds of its staff. Acusphere is seeking FDA approval cardiac imaging agent, perflubutane polymer microspheres (Imagify).

—Venrock Associates of Cambridge, MA; New York; Palo Alto, CA; and Israel launched Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners with a $194 million fund to invest in public and late-stage private healthcare companies.

—Ryan caught a glimpse of a nascent Boston-area biotech called Novophage that’s out to turn bacteria-infecting viruses into a new weapon in the rapidly escalating battle against antibiotic-resistant microbes like MRSA. The startup, whose scientific founders include MIT’s Bob Langer and Gregory Stephanopoulos, Boston University’s James Collins, and Harvard Medical School student Timothy Lu, is making its pitch in the BU $50K Business Plan Competition, the Harvard Business School Business Plan Contest, and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Lu believes the science is advanced enough that Novophage’s founders can start thinking about pitching to venture investors as well.

—Connecticut-based biotech Helix Therapeutics raised $515,000 from quasi-public investor Connecticut Innovations as part of a $965,000 round of financing to support its development of DNA-based treatments for AIDS/HIV, sickle cell anemia, Gaucher’s disease and other ailments. The round also included funding from LaunchCapital and individual backers, and a line of credit from Webster Bank.

—Luke profiled the decades-long efforts of Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) to realize one of cancer research’s grand dreams: super-targeted treatments that combine antibodies and toxins to destroy cancer cells and spare healthy ones. If all goes well, a drug that incorporates ImmunoGen’s technology with Genentech’s trastuzumab (Herceptin) could be on the market next year.

—Ryan caught up with Jonathan Bush, the CEO of Watertown, MA-based Athenahealth (NASDAQ:ATHN), whose Web-based software helps medical practices manage billing, electronic medical records, and other functions. Given his company’s offerings, you might think that Bush would be excited about the $19 billion in last month’s stimulus plan allocated to helping doctors switch to electronic medical records, but the famously outspoken CEO—the first cousin of former President George W. Bush–has his questions and quibbles about the program.

—Brighton, MA-based Surface Logix raised $20 million in a Series E financing that included $15 million in venture capital from Arch Venture Partners, HBM BioVentures, Healthcare Focus, Intel Capital, Saudi Venture Development, Unilever Technology Ventures, and Venrock Associates, and a $5 million loan from Silicon Valley Bank. Luke talked to Surface Logix CEO Keith Dionne, who has held the job for less than six months, about the company’s unusual chemical for treating obesity and diabetes, and its strategy for hopefully overcoming the problems that have plagued similar drugs in the past.

—Backers including HealthCare Ventures and Morgenthaler Ventures reportedly put $14 million into Stemgent of Cambridge, MA, and San Diego. The startup, whose scientific advisory board includes luminaries such as MIT’s Bob Langer, Bob Weinberg, and Rudolf Jaenisch; Harvard University’s Douglas Melton; Harvard Medical School’s Leonard Zon; and Sheng Ding of the Scripps Research Institute, aims to sell specialized tools and consumable materials for stem cell researchers.

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