Former Sirtris Execs Sell Resveratrol Via New Nonprofit, Dicerna Closes $25M Deal, ViThera Combats Gut Disease With Engineered Bacteria, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

8/13/10

[Updated 8/13/2010 9:30 EST. See below.] New England’s biotech and healthcare sector yielded a number of interesting stories this week.

—Joanna Horobin, CEO of Syndax Pharmaceuticals, confirmed that the Waltham, MA-based cancer-drug developer has raised $6 million in a convertible debt financing round planned to total $7 million. The new funds will support a clinical trial of Syndax’s drug, entinostat, as a treatment for breast cancer.

—Ryan spoke with Johannes Fruehauf, co-founder and president of ViThera Laboratories, about his startup’s efforts to “weaponize” bacteria and turn them into treatments for bowel disorders and other ailments. The Cambridge, MA-based company also provides contract research services, using the income from that business to help support the development of its own technology.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) reported that its experimental hepatitis C drug, telaprevir, works as well when taken for 24 weeks as when take for twice as long. The findings will like form part of Vertex’s case for approval of the drug in the U.S. and European markets next year.

—RNAi drug developer Dicerna Pharmaceuticals closed a $25 million Series B round of financing led by new investor Domain Associates and joined by return backers Abingworth, Oxford Bioscience Partners, and Skyline Ventures. The Watertown, MA-based startup has an approach to RNA interference that’s somewhat different from than that of rivals such as Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY)—and which may help Dicerna overcome a major challenge in the field, delivering the gene-silencing molecules deep into the body.

—Wellesley, MA-based Mercator Therapeutics raised $2 million in seed funding from angel backers. CEO Chris Guiffre said the new funds will help Mercator gain a license to its technology, which targets cancer-killing agents to tumor cells, and to do early research in cancer.

Boston Heart Lab raised $10 million in an equity and rights financing, according to an SEC filing. The Framingham, MA-based firm provides technology for measuring cholesterol levels and programs tracking the health of people with cardiovascular disease.

—The Healthy Lifespan Institute, a Boston nonprofit founded by former executives of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and others, has begun online sales of the red wine chemical resveratrol, which is purported to have anti-aging effects, as a dietary supplement. [Editor's note: An earlier version of this story erroneously indicated that the formulation off the supplement was the same as one Sirtris originally developed as a drug called SRT501. Though the supplement is made in the same synthetic process as SRT501, the group says that the drug was tested in liquid form in capsules of 5 grams and the supplement is provided in powder form in 250-milligram capsules.] One of the nonprofit’s ultimate goals is to study the effects of resveratrol and other non-pharmaceutical interventions on the aging process, according to Christoph Westphal, one of the founders of the organization and the former chief executive of Sirtris.

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