A Graceful Exit for Gloucester, Pink Slips at Sermo, A Half a Billion Bucks for Vertex, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

12/9/09

New England’s life sciences firms and their investors seemed to be exchanging some early holiday gifts this week.

—Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX) completed the latest in a string of large financing and licensing deals. In this one, the Cambridge, MA-based developer of drugs for hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis sold a total of $500.5 million worth of new stock in the offering.

—Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) and Acceleron Pharma, both also of Cambridge, struck a deal giving Alkermes access to Acceleron’s technology for boosting biotech drugs’ longevity in the bloodstream. Alkermes will pay $2 million upfront, with the potential for additional milestone payments and royalties, and will make an $8 million equity investment in Acceleron.

—Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB) bumped up its bid for Redwood City, CA-based Facet Biotech (NASDAQ:FACT) by 21 percent, to $17.50 per share. Facet rejected Biogen’s earlier buyout offer of $14.50 per share in October.

—Luke profiled NormOxys, a Wellesley, MA-based startup co-founded by French Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn, as the firm emerged from stealth mode. The startup’s odd name reflects its aim of developing drugs that normalize the amount of oxygen in tissues such as failing heart muscle that are deprived of the vital molecule.

Luke reported that 28-year-old ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) of Waltham, MA, is poised to present data that could indicate its first drug is ready for FDA approval. Developed in partnership with Roche, the drug combines Roche’s breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin) with a chemical toxin designed to make it an even more effective tumor-cell killer.

—Cambridge-based Gloucester Pharmaceuticals—whose cancer drug romidepsin (Istodax) won FDA approval last month, agreed to a $340 million acquisition by Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). The deal also includes $300 million in future milestone payments.

Adelene Perkins took the helm of Cambridge-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI). Founding CEO Steve Holtzman will stay on as executive chairman, the company said.

—Cambridge-based Sermo—whose 110,000-plus-member online community for physicians generates potentially valuable information for drug companies, investors, and others–-let go about 30 of its 60 to 80 staffers, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous. In an interview with Ryan, the firm’s founder and CEO, Daniel Palestrant, declined to confirm or deny the cuts, but acknowledged that upheaval in the financial services and pharmaceutical sectors has forced Sermo to adjust its strategy.

Ryan profiled Cambridge-based Mersana Therapeutics, whose “Fleximer” technology helps ferry otherwise toxic drugs into cells. The startup’s first treatment employing the technology, an anti-cancer agent dubbed XMT-1001, is performing well in a Phase I clinical trial, Mersana CEO Julie Olson told Ryan.

—Cambridge-based Epizyme added $8 million from New Enterprise Associates (NEA) to its Series B venture financing. The new cash brings the total for the round to $40 million.

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