Biogen Idec Rebuts Icahn Attack, GlaxoSmithKline Quietly Spins Off Tempero Pharmaceuticals, Knome Launches Cheaper Sequencing Service, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

5/20/09

New CEOs, new financings, new approvals, and new data—it was an interesting week for New England’s life sciences companies.

—Cambridge, MA-based Molecular Insight Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MIPI) named a new president and CEO, Daniel Peters, just months after giving that post to co-founder John Babich. Babich will stay on as chief scientific officer of Molecular, which is developing a cardiac imaging agent called Zemiva.

—Artisan Pharma of Waltham, MA, indicated in an SEC filing that it has raised $9.4 million of an $11.8 million round of debt financing from undisclosed sources. Artisan is developing a treatment for a blood-clotting condition in patients with sepsis.

—Ryan chatted with Jeff Carbeck, co-founder of Watertown, MA-based Arsenal Medical, chief scientist at Cambridge, MA-based Nano-Terra, and newly named New England Clean Energy Council fellow. One of the top chemical engineers to come out of the lab of Harvard’s George Whitesides, Carbeck is bringing material science discoveries to bear not only in medical products but also in clean technology and a host of other industries.

—Cambridge, MA-based OmniGuide raised $1.8 million in an equity financing, according to an SEC filing that did not disclose investors in the deal. OmniGuide is developing fiber-optic laser scalpels for minimally invasive surgery.

—Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) launched a one-two punch at Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor campaigning to take over the board of the Cambridge, MA-based biotech giant. In a first regulatory filing, Biogen disputed Icahn’s criticism of its leadership, pipeline, dealmaking, and stock price—and argued that Icahn’s nominees for the Biogen board would “weaken” the its financial and operational capabilities. http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2009/05/14/biogen-idec-pipeline-strong-tysabri-coming-back-icahn-would-weaken-board-company-says/ In a second filing, the Cambridge company said that Icahn’s proposal to split it into two parts would “destroy shareholder value on multiple fronts.”

—Veteran biotech dealmaker Katrine Bosley became the first CEO of Waltham, MA-based startup Avila Therapeutics, which is developing drugs designed to form covalent bonds with disease-related proteins. The company also raised $5 million in a debt and options financing from existing investors.

—Luke gave a sneak peak at data that Boston-area will present at the upcoming meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando, FL. Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN), for example, will share highly anticipated data about its breast cancer drug, called trastuzumab DM1, or TDM1. Other local firms to present at the conference include Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI), Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB), and Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SNTA) of Cambridge, MA, and Antigenics (NASDAQ: AGEN), of Lexington, MA—Luke has details on all of them.

—Ryan got the scoop on Tempero Pharmaceuticals, a startup quietly launched by London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline to develop treatments for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Based in Cambridge, MA, Tempero is helmed by Spiros Jamas, former CEO of Watertown, MA-based Enanta Pharmaceuticals.

Children’s Hospital Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital licensed some jointly owned technology related to blood-forming stem cells exclusively to La Jolla, CA-based Fate Therapeutics. Leonard Zon, director of the stem cell program at Children’s and a scientific founder of Fate, developed the technology.

—Ryan got a briefing from Robert Mashal, CEO of NKT Therapeutics, about the Newton, MA-based startup’s plans for developing drugs that target a lesser-known component of the immune system called natural killer T cells, which potentially play key roles in asthma, cancer, and other ailments. Using funding from SV Life Sciences and MedImmune Ventures and an antibody designed to home in on a cellular receptor unique to certain NKT cells, the startup will tackle asthma as its first target, with human testing about year and a half to two years in the future.

—Cambridge, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) won FDA approval for its long-acting version of risperidone (Risperdal Consta) as a treatment for bipolar disorder. The drug, marketed by Johnson & Johnson and already Alkermes’ biggest product, was previously approved as a treatment for schizophrenia.

–Knome of Cambridge, MA, launched an economy version of its personal genome sequencing service called KnomeSELECT. The new service, which will sequence just the protein-coding regions of a customer’s DNA, will cost $24,500, compared to $99,000 for Knome’s whole-genome sequencing service.

—Luke reported on his meeting a couple of weeks ago with Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, in her new office in Waltham, MA. “Dr. Sue,” who calls Waltham “the next big life sciences cluster,” talked about the return she thinks taxpayers can expect from Massachusetts’ billion-dollar life sciences initiative, what her agency is doing to foster education and workplace training, how state budget cuts might affect the center’s activities, and more.

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