Novartis Edges Out Biogen Idec in Oral MS Drug Race, Ironwood Sells Microbia to DSM, RXi Teams With Eyegate, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

9/24/10

It was New England’s public life sciences companies that made the most news in the sector this week.

—Ryan chatted with Mark Corrigan, CEO of Zalicus (NASDAQ: ZLCS), about the Cambridge, MA-based company’s efforts to rebuild its image among investors after a long period of upheaval. Originally known as CombinatoRx, the firm has seen the failure in 2008 of its lead drug candidate, a series of layoffs, the departure of founding CEO Alexis Borisy, a merger with Vancouver BC-based Neuromed Pharmaceuticals, the approval of its first drug, and, last week, the name change. So what does the new name mean, Ryan asked Corrigan? “Zalicus doesn’t mean anything per se,” Corrigan said, “so it gives us an opportunity to essentially create the brand with our efforts.”

—Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) doubled down on its bet on Sunnyvale, CA-based Asthmatx, in which the Natick, MA-based medical device giant had previously invested, by agreeing to acquire the startup for $193.5 million. The agreement also includes potential payments, based on sales of Asthmatx’s catheter-based device for treating asthma, that could bring the total value of the deal to $443.5 million.

—Cambridge-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD) sold its Lexington, MA-based bio-manufacturing subsidiary Microbia to Royal DSM, the Dutch chemicals giant, for an undisclosed sum. Ironwood, which went public in January 2010, recorded $1 million in losses from the Microbia business on its 2009 balance sheet.

—Worcester, MA-based RXi Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RXII) teamed up with Waltham, MA-based EyeGate Pharma to develop RNAi-based treatments for retinal disorders. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

—Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB), the Weston, MA-based maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, was beaten in the race to gain FDA approval for the first oral MS treatment by Swiss drug giant Novartis. Novartis’s once-daily pill fingolimod (Gilenya) crossed the finish line ahead of Biogen’s BG-12, which is in late-stage development.

—Ryan took a fascinating look at Henri Termeer, CEO of biotech giant Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ), at a time when observers wonder if the executive’s days at the helm of the embattled firm are numbered. Should French drug giant Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE: SNY) succeed in its efforts to acquire Cambridge-based Genzyme Termeer would likely leave, but sources close to the CEO believe he’s not nearly ready to do so, and would rather see the firm through its current challenges with manufacturing trouble and investor discontent. Termeer, they indicated, did not build Genzyme to sell, but rather to thrive as a stand-alone company.

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