Infinity Halts Trial of Lead Cancer Drug, Tysabri Sales Short of Projections, Myomo Slashes Staff, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

4/22/09

It’s not all bad news this week for New England’s life sciences firms (my headline notwithstanding), but there certainly were a few somber notes.

—Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INFI) of Cambridge, MA, halted a late-stage trial of its lead cancer drug among patients with relapsed forms of malignant stomach tumors after interim results showed that more patients taking the drug were dying, compared to those who were not taking the drug. Infinity is still testing the drug, retaspimycin (or IPI-504), in separate trials among patients with non-small cell lung cancer, metastatic breast cancer, and advanced solid tumors, and will decide if any changes are needed in those studies.

—Waltham, MA-based Synageva BioPharma raised $30 million in a private equity financing led by Baker Brothers Investments and joined by Tullis Dickerson and Four Partners. Synageva plans to raise still more money in the weeks to come to support development of both novel and generic protein drugs.

—The FDA granted Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) approval for a high-yield process for making the drug natalizumab (Tysabri), which is approved for multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. But sales of the drug in the first quarter fell short of analyst’s predictions, generating $227 million worldwide rather than the predicted $246 million. The drug is now being taken by about 40,000 patients, an increase of about 3,000 over the previous quarter.

—Clarus Ventures of Cambridge, MA, helped lead a $10 million Series A round of financing for Ann Arbor, MI-based Lycera, a developer of treatments for autoimmune diseases. InterWest Partners and Arch Venture Partners were among the other lead investors in the round; return backer EDF Ventures also participated.

—Ryan got the goods on the technology and strategy of Cambridge, MA-based Epizyme, a heretofore stealthy startup out to make “epigenetic” drugs to combat blood cancer and tumors. Conceived during a meeting at MPM Capital two years ago and backed by MPM and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Epizyme is developing drugs that target a class of enzymes known as histone methyltransferases—manipulating these enzymes should allow the company to turn disease-related genes on and off without affecting the underlying genetic code.

—Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY) announced that the European Patent Office will grant it the first patent in Alnylam’s “Tuschi I” patent series. The patent includes broad claims on the use of double-stranded RNA molecules for RNA interference.

—Boston’s Myomo, maker of a robotic elbow brace for rehabilitation after stroke, reduced its staff by 66 percent and adopted a more virtual business model in response to slower-than-expected initial sales of the device, Ryan learned. With just four full-time employees remaining, the company hopes break into the home market with its device, which is currently used in rehab clinics in the Boston and New York markets and may soon be used in Hartford, CT, as well.

—The University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Massachusetts Biologic Laboratories will share a $60 million upfront fee with Princeton, NJ-based biotech firm Medarex (NASDAQ:MEDX) as part of a licensing deal with Merck (NYSE:MRK). The drug giant will get exclusive worldwide rights to two monoclonal antibodies being developed for the treatment of clostridium diffficile infection; the UMass lab and Medarex will be eligible for up to $165 million in milestone fees and double-digit royalties on Merck’s potential sales of the products.

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