Zafgen Plans Weight-Loss Study, Infinity CEO Perkins Plans for Growth, Boston Scientific Cuts 1000+ Jobs, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

2/12/10

This week we’ve got another crop of great interviews with the founders and executives of some of New England’s most fascinating life sciences companies.

Zafgen CEO Tom Hughes filled Luke in on his Cambridge, MA-based startup’s plans to begin human tests of its anti-obesity drug, which the company hopes will be the first drug to produce weight loss dramatic enough to compete with stomach stapling and other bariatric surgery. Hughes also shared some surprising news from animal studies that the Third Rock Ventures- and Atlas Ventures-backed company has completed over the last year: its original idea about how its drug works has turned out to be completely wrong.

Solace Pharmaceuticals CEO Eliot Forster confirmed to Ryan that the startup, founded in 2006 to develop pain treatments, has shuttered its Cambridge operations. The move came in late November, after Solace’s lead drug candidate failed in a mid-stage clinical trial. Backed by PureTech Ventures, Polaris Venture Partners, and InterWest Partners, Solace will continue to operate out of its remaining office in Canterbury, UK.

Veteran biotech dealmaker Adelene Perkins talked to Luke about her journey to the corner office of Cambridge-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI). Perkins, who became Infinity’s CEO on January 1, also shared her plans to build up the commercial side of the company, which has yet to bring a drug to market, and to transform it into a fully integrated organization.

—Ryan chatted with PatientsLikeMe co-founder and president Ben Heywood, whose social networking site for people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy has grown from about 25,000 users in December 2008 to more than 55,000 early this month. The Cambridge-based startup, which sells anonymous data culled from the members of its 10 patient communities to pharmaceutical and research companies, has also staffed up from 20 to 30 employees.

—Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) and Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISIS) reported results from a Phase III clinical trial indicating that their experimental cholesterol-lowering drug, mipomersen, significantly lowers the cholesterol of patients with a rare condition called heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia. The drug was also associated with increases in liver enzymes called transaminases, which can indicate liver damage, however—this issue, seen in previous trials, has caused some nervousness about mipomersen among investors.

—Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) announced plans to cut 1,000 to 1,300 jobs, or 8 percent to 10 percent of its total work force, as part of a company-wide restructuring effort. The Natick, MA, medical devices giant is aiming to reduce its 2009 gross expenses by $200 million to $250 million during the next two years.

—CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX) co-founder and former CEO Alexis Borisy talked to Ryan about his new gig as an entrepreneur in residence at Boston’s Third Rock Ventures—and about the super-stealthy new life sciences firm he’s helming, Foundation Medicine. Borisy joined Third Rock in October, a few months after leaving his post at CombinatoRx as part of its merger with NeuroMed Pharmaceuticals.


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