Genentech Veteran Takes Agios’ Helm, E8 and MIT Take on Navigenics, Genzyme’s Mipomersen Takes Next Step, Alnylam Takes Advantage of Tekmira Technology, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

5/28/09

New England’s life sciences firms reported a lot of encouraging clinical-trials news this week.

—A cholesterol-lowering drug developed by Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) and Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) reached its goals in a pivotal clinical trial. Genzyme intends to apply for approval of the drug, called mipomersen, first in a small population of patients with a rare genetic anomaly that causes high cholesterol, and later in much larger groups of patients that might turn the product into a blockbuster.

—Cambridge, MA-based startup E8 Pharmaceuticals, along with MIT, filed a lawsuit against Navigenics, a Foster City, CA-based genetic testing company. The suit alleges that Navigenics is infringing on a patent on genotyping technology developed by MIT’s David Housman, one of the founders of E8, by using microarrays manufactured by Santa Clara, CA-based Affymetrix; E8 and MIT filed suit against Affymetrix itself last year.

—Ryan caught up with one of the organizers of Dartmouth College’s first-ever Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) Business Plan Competition. Taking the $50,000 first prize was Hanover, NH-based Novoculi, which is out to develop a non-invasive device for blood-glucose testing that works by projecting light into a diabetic patient’s eye and measuring the rate at which pigments in the retina are regenerated after the retina is “bleached” by the light.

—Luke profiled Vancouver, BC-based Tekmira (TSX: TKM), whose drug-delivery technology is incorporated in Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam’s RNAi-based treatment for liver cancer. Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) launched a trial of the treatment last month in 55 patients, the first significant clinical trial of an RNAi drug designed to circulate throughout the body, rather than being injected locally.

—RiskMetrics Group, an influential proxy advisor, endorsed two of the four people nominated by billionaire investor Carl Icahn to the board of Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Votes will be tallied on June 3 at Biogen’s annual shareholders meeting.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) launched a pivotal clinical trial program for VX-770, its drug candidate for cystic fibrosis. The three planned trials will include 240 patients at 110 clinical trial sites in North America, Europe, and Australia.

—Cancer drug developer Agios Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, MA, named Genentech veteran David Schenkein as its first permanent CEO. Schenkein, who was the senior vice president in charge of cancer drug development at Genentech, will replace Third Rock Ventures partner Kevin Starr, who has been serving as Agios’ interim CEO.

A diabetes treatment under development by CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX), also of Cambridge, MA, helped reduce blood sugar levels and provided other benefits in a mid-stage clinical trial. The treatment is a combination of bezafibrate and diflunisal.

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