Genzyme Shrinks Gene Therapy Effort, Expands Oncology; BioVex Raises $40M For Cancer-Fighting Viruses; Biogen Looks to Future of MS Franchise; & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

4/1/09

If you ever wanted to get the big picture on some of New England’s biggest biotechs, this was certainly a good week to do so.

—Just six months after securing its $20 million first round of financing, Cambridge, MA-based Alnara Pharmaceuticals struck a deal putting a late-stage drug candidate into its pipeline. Alnara licensed the drug, liprotamase—an enzyme-replacement pill for patients with cystic fibrosis and chronic pancreatitis—from a nonprofit affiliate of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As part to the deal, Alnara will take over an ongoing Phase 3 trial of the drug.

—Luke recounted Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme’s (NASDAQ: GENZ) two-decades-long effort to realize the promise of gene therapy. A few days later, Genzyme announced that one of its experimental gene-therapy treatments had failed in a clinical trial to help patients with peripheral artery disease regain some mobility. In response, Genzyme decided to pull the plug on that particular program, though it will continue developing gene therapies for Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration.

—In other Genzyme news, the Massachusetts biotech powerhouse announced it had acquired three drugs from Germany-based Bayer AG: alemtuzumab (Campath), a leukemia drug thought to have greater potential as a treatment for MS, and cancer dugs fludarabine (Fludara) and sargramostim (Leukine). The deal, which will add a projected $185 million to Genzyme’s 2009 revenue, and as much as $700 million in revenue over three years, could help support the firm’s goal of 20 percent compound annual earnings growth from 2006 through 2011.

—Cambridge, MA-based Molecular Insight Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MIPI) released detailed results from a mid-stage study of its imaging agent for spotting early warning signs of heart attack and stroke. On the strength of the study, Molecular Insight decided to gear up for a pivotal trial of the agent, which it hopes to market under the name Zemiva.

—Cambridge, MA-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals gave investors and reporters a run-down on its cancer-drug pipeline—a suite of 13 drug candidates that, combined with Millennium’s marketed drug bortezomib (Velcade) and its in-house drug development expertise, helped the Cambridge firm fetch $8.8 billion in an acquisition by Tokyo-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

—Luke chatted with Biogen Idec’s (NASDAQ:BIIB) president of research and development, Cecil Pickett, about the Cambridge, MA-based firm’s effort to protect its $2.2 billion-a-year multiple sclerosis franchise in the face of dwindling patent protection for its biggest-selling drug, interferon-beta1a (Avonex). The idea: a modified version of the compounds that lasts longer in the bloodstream, requires fewer shots, and might even work better.

—The FDA said that Cambridge, MA-based Dyax (NASDAQ: DYAX) must answer more questions about its lead drug in development, a treatment for hereditary angioedema called DX-88, before the drug can be approved. The company then announced it would cut 60 jobs to focus on bringing DX-88 to market.

—Ryan took a look at TargAnox, a Boston-area startup launched with $5.1 in Series A funding from Ascent Biomedical Ventures (which led the round) and Partners Innovation Fund. TargAnox is out to develop drugs for the likes of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease by curbing a biochemical process called oxidative stress.

—Woburn, MA-based cancer drug developer BioVex raised a whopping $40 million in venture capital to help move its genetically modified cancer-fighting virus through late-stage clinical testing. The round was led by Amsterdam-based Forbion Capital Partners and joined by Credit Agricole Private Equity, Innoven Partners, New Science Ventures, Triathlon Medical Venture Partners, Scottish Equity Partners, and others.

–Aushon BioSystems, a Billerica, MA-based provider of microarray tools and services, raised $6.5 million in new financing from North Bridge Venture Partners.

—Marlborough, MA-based Sepracor (NASDAQ: SEPR) applied for FDA approval of the epilepsy drug eslicarbazepine acetate, which Sepracor licensed from the Portuguese pharmaceutical company BIAL-Portela in 2007. Sepracor hopes to market the drug as Stedesa.

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