Pfizer Axes Celldex Agreement, Vertex’s Telaprevir Performs in Clinical Trial, Anchor Therapeutics Inks Potential $480M Deal With J&J, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

9/10/10

—Needham, MA-based Celldex Therapeutics announced that Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) had terminated a agreement in which it licensed Celldex’s experimental cancer vaccine rindopepimut, because it no longer views the drug as a strategic priority. Celldex (NASDAQ: CLDX) will regain full rights to develop and commercialize the drug, effective November 1.

—Ryan checked in with Oliver Fetzer, chief executive of Cambridge, MA-based Cerulean Pharma, about his company’s progress in developing nanoparticle drugs designed to kill tumors. Cerulean’s lead drug candidate, CRLX101, was well-tolerated in an initial human trial.

The FDA put clinical trials of two of Idenix Pharmaceuticals’ hepatitis C drugs on hold, causing the Cambridge-based biotech company’s stock to plummet almost 50 percent to $3.11 per share on Wednesday afternoon. Idenix was testing two of its drugs in healthy volunteers, and the FDA put the red light on the trials when the company found elevated liver toxicity in three of the patients who took both drugs.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), on the other hand, had good news about its own hepatitis C drug candidate, telaprevir. A combination of telaprevir and standard hepatitis drugs was able to cure two-thirds of patients who had failed to respond to a prior round of the standard drugs alone, in a trial involving more than 660 volunteers. Based on that study and two others, Vertex plans to file an application for FDA approval of the drug by year’s end.

—Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, a developer of peptide-based drugs for metabolic ailments, closed a $40 million Series A financing round which included new investor Third Rock Ventures. The startup, which licensed its two lead drug candidates from the French biotech Ipsen, announced it had raised the first $21 million of the round from MPM Capital and New Enterprise Associates back in March.

—Gene sequencing instrument maker Helicos Biosciences (NASDAQ: HLCS) of Cambridge, MA, filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Menlo Park, CA-based Pacific Biosciences. Helicos claims that the California firm’s technology violates its patents on a technology known as single molecule sequencing, which extend to as far as 2028.

Anchor Therapeutics, also of Cambridge, MA, forged a partnership with the Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) that could be worth up to $480 million. The deal involves several drug targets in the fields of cancer and metabolic disease, and centers around Anchor’s “pepducin” drug technology, which the startup says offers a new way to hit a lucrative class of drug targets called G protein coupled receptors.

—U.K.-based Shire (NASDAQ: SHGPY) agreed to pay Cambridge, MA-based Acceleron Pharma as much as $498 million to co-develop and co-market drugs for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and other muscle disorders. Acceleron, which will get a $45 million upfront cash payment, has shown in animal studies that its lead drug candidate can increase muscle mass and improve strength in animals.

—Following a merger last year with Vancouver-based Neuromed Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, MA-based drug developer CombinatoRx announced it has changed its name to Zalicus. The company, which won its first drug approval earlier this year for the pain treatment hydromorphone HCL (Exalgo), now trades on the Nasdaq under the symbol ZLCS.


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