Public Biotechs’ Finances Foundering, Epizyme Banks $32M, Paratek Cuts Deal with Novartis, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

10/9/09

It was a busy week in the land of New England life sciences. Let’s dive in.

—Luke did a massive analysis of the financial health of all the public biotech companies we follow the Boston area and the news… Well, it wasn’t good.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) brought in $155 million in cash by selling $120 million in debt and $35 million for the rights to potential milestone payments. Both deals were related to the potential European commercialization of telaprevir, Vertex’s experimental drug for hepatitis C.

—Adimab, a Lebanon, NH-based biotech startup developing a new platform for discovering antibody drugs, raised $8.2 million in a Series D round of venture financing. Google Ventures led the financing and Polaris Venture Partners, SV Life Sciences OrbiMed Advisors, and Borealis Ventures participated as well.

Merrimack Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge forged a co-development and co-marketing deal with French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis. The partnership, focused on Merrimack’s antibody cancer drug MM-121, will bring the Cambridge firm $60 million upfront and as much as $470 million more in milestone payments, not to mention double-digit percentage royalties, should the drug reach the market.

—Luke chatted with Peter Hecht, CEO of Cambridge -based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, which recently recruited former Genentech CFO David Ebersman to its board. Does the move signal that Ironwood—whose lead, potential blockbuster, drug is in late-stage clinical trials—is preparing to go public? Hecht wouldn’t say so, but Luke explains why Ironwood might fare well on Wall Street.

—The FDA followed an earlier advisory panel recommendation that clofarabine (Clolar), a leukemia drug from Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ), not be approved for use in a broader population of patients. The agency said that Cambridge-based Genzyme should conduct another trial of the drug in patients over age 60; it’s currently approved just for children with leukemia.

—Ryan spent the day at the MassBio Investors Forum in Boston, checking in with folks from Cambridge-based RNAi-drug developer Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY), (which referenced a potential spin-off company perhaps in the works); Waltham, MA-based EyeGate Pharma (which has rounded up $12 million of a planned $20 million to $25 million financing); Cequent Pharmaceuticals, another Cambridge-based RNAi-drug developer (which is moving its first drug into clinical trials); and Pathogenica (a brand-new diagnostics firm spun out of George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School). He also gleaned some insights (and arguments) about the future of biotechnology from Harvard Business School professor Gary Pisano and life sciences investment firm CEO Steven Burrill.

—Epizyme, a Cambridge startups out to turn the science of epigenetics into new drugs that work by turning genes on and off, raised $32 million in a Series B venture round led by Bay City Capital. Amgen Ventures, Astellas Venture Partners, MPM Capital, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers participated as well.

—Boston-based antibiotic developer Paratek Pharmaceuticals struck an exclusive development and commercialization deal with Swiss drug giant Novartis. The deal, which could be worth as much as $485 million in initial milestone payments, focuses on Paratek’s PTK 0796, which is in late-stage clinical development for treating complicated skin and skin structure infections as well as certain cases of pneumonia.

—Immuneering, which is developing computer models to predict patients’ responses to cancer drugs, became the first life sciences startup to join Polaris Venture Partners’ new Dog Patch Labs startup incubator in Cambridge. The move will take the company out of CEO Ben Zeskind’s apartment in Boston’s Back Bay.

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