Vertex Pursues Drug-Cocktail Strategy, Phase Forward Out To Expand Health IT Empire, Alkermes Awaits FDA Ruling, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

3/12/10

Another week, another cadre of CEOs with big plans for growing their New England life sciences companies even bigger.

Diagnostics For All CEO Una Ryan talked about her multi-pronged effort to raise money for testing and deployment of her Cambridge, MA-based firm’s affordable diagnostic technology. Developed in the legendary Harvard lab of chemist George Whitesides, the nonprofit’s paper-based, postage stamp-sized devices could begin helping patients in developing countries with HIV/AIDS and other ailments by year’s end, if Ryan has her way.

Vertex Chief Medical Officer Bob Kauffman told Luke about the biotech’s to develop a drug cocktail to fight hepatitis C virus while avoiding the flu-like symptoms of standard treatments for the infection. Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX) is poised to begin clinical testing of one such cocktail, which includes its experimental drug telaprevir, even as it pursues approval for telaprevir for use with standard hepatitis drugs—a milestone the company hopes to reach sometime in 2011.

—Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and its Swiss partner Roche reportedly halted development of ocrelizumab, an experimental drug for rheumatoid arthritis, because of safety concerns. Bloomberg News reported that the drug is still being tested for multiple sclerosis.

Bob Weiler, chairman and CEO of Waltham, MA-based health IT pioneer Phase Forward (NASDAQ:PFWD) told Ryan about his company’s strategy for maintaining its decade-long growth spurt. Having started out by convincing drug companies to switch from paper records to software for collecting and managing data in clinical trials, Phase Forward is making a series of acquisitions to build up a suite of software products that automate everything from the early clinical development to post-marketing safety studies.

—Swiss pharmaceutical behemoth Novartis signed up to back an online community for organ transplant recipients hosted by Cambridge-based social networking site PatientsLikeMe. Novartis, which has a large R&D organization in Cambridge, previously tapped PatientsLikeMe for information about patients with multiple sclerosis.

—The FDA said it intends to reveal today whether it has approved a once-a-week diabetes drug from Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: AMLN) and San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN). Alkermes stands to collect a 7.5 percent royalty on worldwide sales of the drug, an version of exenatide (Byetta) that can be injected just once a week, instead of twice a day.

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