Genzyme Activist Joins Board, Agios Clinches Deal With Celgene, Third Rock Seeks $400M New Fund, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

4/16/10Follow @xconomy

Looks like last week’s flurry of information technology news is long gone. Headlines of partnerships, board appointments, and venture funding in biotech companies made it a busy life sciences news week for us.

—MedVentive, a Waltham, MA-based provider of software for tracking medical data, raised a $10 million series C round. MedVentive got part of the boost from included Clarian Health Ventures, the investing unit of one of its key customers.

—Ryan tracked the growing fervor, on the part of both investors and biotech companies, in developing drugs for rare diseases, as opposed to the traditional focus on big patient populations like those with heart disease, arthritis, or cancer. Alnara Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, MA, drug developer backed by Third Rock Ventures, is among the companies taking a cue from Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ), whose three best-selling drugs each target diseases affecting fewer than 10,000 patients. Bigger pharma companies are also taken on developments in rare disease treatments as a way to offset potential losses from generic knockoffs of their big-selling mass-marketed drugs.

—Cambridge-based Mersana Therapeutics, a maker of drugs designed to last longer in the bloodstream, announced its first big partnership deal, with Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which could be worth as much as $334 million over time.

—Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) filed an application with the FDA to start marketing a long-lasting version of its naltrexone drug (Vivitrol) to help treat people addicted to opioid-based narcotics. The once-monthly injection from Waltham-based Alkermes is already FDA-approved for treating alcohol dependence.

—Two area biotech companies announced they had brought on new CEOs. Bedford, MA-based MicroCHIPS, a maker of wireless medical implants, hired Ajit Gill, who previously helped lead startup Nektar Therapeutics to an IPO. And Marlborough, MA-based Xcellerex, which is developing methods for more efficiently manufacturing biomolecules, tapped Thermo Fisher Scientific veteran Guy Broadbent to lead the company.

Third Rock Ventures plans to raise $400 million for a second fund, according to a filing with the SEC. The Boston-based firm targeted life sciences companies with its maiden $378 million fund, which closed in 2007. Luke profiled Third Rock’s strategy around financing disruptive biotech ideas, back in September 2008.

—PerkinElmer (NYSE: PKI), a Waltham-based maker of scientific instruments, will acquire Spokane, WA-based Signature Genomic Laboratories for about $90 million, it revealed in a regulatory document.

Foundation Medicine pulled in the first tranche of a planned $25 million Series A round, which will go toward developing its methods for fighting cancer by testing for the genomic traits in a tumor and matching them with the best treatments. Third Rock Ventures led the round and has incubated the Boston-based company, whose CEO is Alexis Borisy, the former chief executive of Cambridge-based CombinatoRx (NASDAQ: CRXX).

Catabasis, a stealthy Cambridge-based maker of treatments for metabolic and inflammatory diseases, grabbed the first $7.7 million of a planned $39.7 million round of funding, according to a regulatory filing. The company is led by veterans of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and has members from MedImmune Ventures, Clarus Ventures, and SV Life Sciences on its board.

—Cambridge biotech giant Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) confirmed the Wall Street Journal reports that it added Ralph Whitworth, of San Diego’s Relational Investors, to its board. The addition of Whitworth, who leads the $6 billion fund that is one of Genzyme’s top shareholders, could slow activist investor Carl Icahn’s charge for greater influence over the company. Whitworth will sit on the Genzyme board committees that decide CEO pay and succession, and will chair a new committee on strategic planning and capital spending.

Cambridge’s Agios Pharmaceuticals received $130 million from Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) in exchange for exclusive rights to license and develop any of Agios’ experimental cancer drugs, for a limited time. The Cambridge company could potentially receive another $120 million in milestones for each of the licensed drugs, and additional payment for extending the lifetime of the agreement.

—Taligen Therapeutics, a Cambridge firm focused on treating inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, announced the addition of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) CEO John Maraganore to its board of directors.

Genocea Biosciences received a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command toward discovering a malaria vaccine. The Cambridge-based company will use the cash to find antigens for the vaccine, and will collaborate with the Naval Medical Research Center on the project.

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