Third Rock Launches Sage, Glaxo Malaria Vaccine Relies on Agenus Technology, Vertex Seeks Approval of Cystic Fibrosis Drug, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

10/21/11

This week New England’s life sciences community saw a couple of cool new companies emerge and a few potentially important new treatments reach key milestones.

—Boston-based Third Rock Ventures launched its newest startup with $35 million to develop a new class of drugs for brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Sage Therapeutics’ approach is to fine-tune key receptors in the brain, rather than turning them completely on or off.

—Another Third Rock company, Cambridge, MA-based Foundation Medicine, added Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures to a Series A financing that now totals $33.5 million. Foundation aims to develop personalized cancer diagnostics based on new understanding of genomics.

—Lexington, MA-based Agenus (NASDAQ: AGEN) celebrated the news that an experimental vaccine incorporating its immune-boosting technology provided significant protection against malaria in a study of young African children. Agenus partner GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), which is developing the vaccine, reported the results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

—Cambridge-based Arteaus Therapeutics emerged from stealth mode, announcing an $18 million funding round and plans to develop a migraine drug with technology licensed from Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY). Cambridge-based Atlas Venture and New York-based OrbiMed Advisors provided the backing for the startup.

—Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), also of Cambridge, filed an application with the FDA for a new type of drug for cystic fibrosis. The drug, ivacaftor (Kalydeco, aka VX-770), is designed to treat patients with a mutation called G551D—they represent about 4 percent of the 30,000 or so people in the U.S. who have cystic fibrosis.

—Cambridge-based Catabasis Pharmaceuticals began its first human trial of its lead drug, a treatment for Type 2 diabetes. The drug, CAT-1004, which combines two well-known types of anti-inflammatory compounds, could be an important add-on to standard treatments for the disease.

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