Biogen Idec Faces Suit From Partner Elan, Genzyme Wins European Approval for Stem-Cell Boosting Drug, Alnylam Teams with Tekmira, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

8/12/09

This week we had the usual mix of news on partnerships, clinical trials, and the like, as well as some fascinating in-depth discussions with key players in the life sciences arena.

Antibiotic developer Rib-X Pharmaceuticals announced that the oral form its experimental antibiotic radezolid passed a mid-stage clinical trial as a treatment for a common form of pneumonia. The New Haven, CT, firm is looking to partner with a pharmaceutical company to help move the drug toward FDA approval.

Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) of Cambridge, MA, won approval from European regulators to market plerixafor (Mozobil) for patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma who need stem cell transplants. The drug helps boost the number of stem cells that can be collected from the blood for such transplant procedures.

Altus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALTU) of Waltham, MA, said it will need to raise more capital before the end of next month in order to continue its operations. In March, the firm reduced its staff and abandoned development of a cystic fibrosis treatment in order to focus on ALTU-238, a treatment for patients with growth hormone deficiency.

—Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY) joined forces with Vancouver’s Tekmira Pharmaceuticals (TSX:TKM) to come up with new drug-delivery particles to get RNA-interference drugs where they need to go in the body. Alnylam will fund the research and gets exclusive rights to the resultant discoveries.

—Anti-viral drug maker Idenix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:IDIX) priced a secondary public offering of 7.25 million shares at $3.14 each. The Cambridge-based firm expected to raise $21.2 million from the offer.

—Irish drug company Elan filed suit against its Cambridge-based partner, Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB), over Biogen’s objections to a deal with affiliates of health Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) that Elan announced last month. That deal focuses on what might happen to Biogen and Elan’s multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease drug natalizumab (Tysabri) in the case of an acquisition of change of control of Biogen; Ryan explained all the ins and outs.

—Ryan profiled the efforts of Acetylon Pharmaceuticals to develop drugs to treat multiple myeloma and rheumatoid arthritis by targeting a class of enzymes called histone deacetylases. The startup, which grew out of research at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard University, just closed a $7.25 million Series A round of financing from a group of investors including its co-founder and chairman Mark Cohen, who serves on the board of Dana-Farber, and the Kraft Group, the Foxborough, MA, holding company founded by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is also a major supporter of the institute.

—Luke did an in-depth interview with Seattle researcher Bonnie Ramsey, who serves as the executive director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Therapeutic Development Network. Ramsey spoke in part about how drugs under development at Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) have the potential to fundamentally change how cystic fibrosis is treated, and about the increasingly important role foundations like hers are playing in supporting such research.

—Ryan took a peek at a Waltham, MA, medical devices startup called Connective Orthopaedics that is out to develop products that help torn knee ligaments heal themselves. Boston Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck joined the stealthy startup’s its board of directors in June.

—Luke chatted with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals CEO John Maraganore about the different options he’s considering for advancing his company’s lead program, an RNAi-based treatment for respiratory syncytial virus infections. The discussion offers a nice example of the types of decisions that get made in the course of cutting-edge drug development.

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