European Regulators Question Antigenics and Biogen Idec Drugs, BioAssets Bags $30M in Option Deal, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

10/28/09

Europe’s drug regulators were not kind to a couple of Massachusetts biotech firms this week, but other New England life sciences companies had happier news to report.

—European drug regulators turned down Lexington, MA-based Antigenics’ bid for approval to market vitespen (Oncophage), a “cancer vaccine” for patients with kidney cancer. Shares of Antigenics (NASDAQ: AGEN) tumbled on the news.

—Ryan made a visit to the yeasty-smelling labs of Lebanon, NH-based Mascoma, where researchers are aiming to engineer microbes that can more efficiently produce ethanol from cellulose-rich materials such as wood chips, switch grass, and corn stalks. Mascoma is currently ramping up pilot production at a facility in Rome, NY, and hopes to complete one of the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants—in Kinross, MI—by 2012.

Nuclea Biotechnologies raised $3.4 million in new equity financing. The Pittsfield, MA-based startup is developing genomic tools for cancer research and diagnosis.

Ryan made the rounds of the big healthcare IT symposium put on by Partners HealthCare’s Center for Connected Health. The field is currently riding a wave of interest tipped off in part its inclusion in the economic stimulus bill, he explained, and the event attracted a mix of physicians, entrepreneurs, hospital administrators, academics, and technology executives. Ryan gave a great run-down of highlights from the event.

—Natalizumab (Tysabri), the multiple sclerosis drug from Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB), has reportedly come under fresh scrutiny from European regulators now that a total of 23 patients on the treatment have been diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal brain infection called PML. According to Reuters, the European Medicines Agency has initiated a review to discuss any additional measures necessary to ensure the safety of the drug, which is also approved for Crohn’s disease. Shares of Biogen, and its partner Elan (NYSE:ELN) fell on the news.

—Wellesley, MA-based BioAssets Development Corporation inked a $30 million deal granting Frazer, PA-based Cephalon (NASDAQ: CEPH) to acquire the company. BioAssets will be eligible for various additional payments if Cephalon exercises the option and certain regulatory and sales milestones are reached.

—Boston-based American Well, provider of a Web-based system for remote medical consultations, raised $10 million in new equity funding, according to a regulatory filing. Investors in the round were not named.

—Luke gave a sneak peak of next week’s Xconomy Forum, which will explore how Big Pharma is seeking to boost its pace of innovation—and chances of success—in a notoriously risky industry. We’re all really excited about the event, which will include keynoters Deborah Dunsire, the CEO of Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, and Christoph Westphal, the CEO of Sirtris, and the senior vice president of GlaxoSmithKline’s Centre of Excellence for External Drug Discovery.

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