Icahn Bags Two Biogen Board Seats, Pharma Giants Add $40M to Aileron Coffers, Pulmatrix Proceeds With Tests of Flu-Blocking Aerosol, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

6/10/09

Ryan and Luke profiled some extremely interesting companies this week. More on those, and the rest of the week’s New England life sciences news, below.

—Billionaire investor Carl Icahn succeeded—at least partially—in his attempt to gain representation on the board of Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB). Roxanne reported live from the highly contentious annual meeting at which four board seats were up for grabs. The voting was so close, however, that only three winners were initially named–among them, Icahn portfolio manager Alex Denner. After the meeting, Bob got an exclusive interview with Denner and Harvard Medical School’s Richard Mulligan, who talked about why they thought Icahn’s attempt this year attempt to get his people on the Biogen board was more successful than a similar attempt last year. And late yesterday Biogen announced that Mulligan has won a seat on the board as well.

Life Image CEO Hamid Tabatabaie told Ryan about his year-and-a-half-old startup’s efforts to address the problem of over-utilization of medical imaging with a system that would allow healthcare providers to better store, search, and share X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other digital medical images. Life Image, whose core software was developed at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, raised $2.5 million in April in a Series A round of equity financing from Partners Innovation Fund and Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation.

—Ryan got the scoop on the technology being developed by Cambridge, MA-based Seventh Sense Biosystems, which closed its $4.75 million first round of financing from Flagship Ventures, Third Rock Ventures, and Polaris Venture Partners in December. CEO Doug Levinson (a Flagship partner) explained that the hitherto secretive startup wants to develop simple-to-use, unobtrusive health-monitoring tools. They would take the form of tattoo-like marks on top of or just under the surface of the skin that change color when some medically relevant change in body chemistry occurs. At the heart of the system are “bioactive pigments” developed by MIT’s Bob Langer, the University of Michigan’s Joerg Lahann, and Samir Mitragotri, at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

—Ryan scored an interview with Fereydoun Firouz, chief executive of EMD Serono—the U.S. affiliate of Germany’s Merck KGaA and its Swiss biotech unit, Merck Serono. They talked about EMD’s efforts to develop new drugs for multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, and fertility-related conditions; its plans for expansion in the Boston area, and its competition with local biotech giants Biogen Idec and Genzyme on the MS front.

—Cambridge, MA-based Aileron Therapeutics raised a whopping $40 million in a deal led by the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline and Excel Medical Ventures and joined by venture operations representing Novartis, Roche, and Eli Lilly, as well as Apple Tree Partners, and two angel investors. The new funding will aid Aileron’s efforts to develop a new class of drugs called “stapled peptides,” which are designed to reach targets inside cells that are inaccessible to conventional small-molecule and protein drugs.

—Luke got an update on Lexington, MA-based Pulmatrix, whose lung-protecting, pathogen-blocking aerosol technology is getting a lot of attention in light of the H1N1 flu outbreak. The startup recently completed a small Phase 1 safety trial of the technology; a larger trial, which could provide evidence of the technology’s efficacy against flu, could be completed as soon as October.

—Ryan got a sneak peak at Taris Biomedical, a startup founded by prominent MIT inventors Michael Cima and Bob Langer that will make its full public debut at our upcoming Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship on June 24. The Lexington, MA-based firm is developing a device for delivering drugs directly to the bladder. Taris raised $15 million last August in a Series A round of venture capital from Flybridge Capital Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, and Flagship Ventures.

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