East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: GSK, Protein Sciences, IMS Health

3/15/13Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

One big East Coast pharmaceutical firm abandoned work on a hepatitis C drug this week, while another shuttered a young company that had cost it $720 million to acquire. But new ideas continue to burst forth, and investors pitched in $20 million for another hopeful startup.

The Connecticut company that figured out how to make a recombinant flu vaccine is now trying to invent a marketing strategy for it. And in New Jersey, one of the biggest sources of marketing data for drug companies snapped up a startup that helps organize all that information.

Also, if you need a way to keep track of all the players in the life sciences world, just follow Xconomy national biotech editor Luke Timmerman’s baseball-inspired scorecard.

—London-based GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) is closing the Cambridge, MA, site of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, the company it acquired for $720 million in 2008 to get access to its drugs targeted at diseases of aging. Glaxo is continuing development of Sirtris drug candidates, however, and will retain some of Sirtris’ 60 staffers. A Glaxo spokeswoman says Sirtis scientists had succeeded at exploring the biology of the class of proteins called sirtuins, which have been linked to the aging process. But now the clinical development work on its drugs will be carried on by other Glaxo units.

—New York pharmaceutical giant Pfizer bailed out of a crowded race to produce a next-generation hepatitis C drug that wouldn’t require patients to take injections of interferon. Pfizer’s candidate in the fevered contest, a small molecule compound called filibuvir, would have faced competition from the infectious disease powerhouse Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) of Foster City, CA, as well as Pfizer’s fellow drug industry heavyweights Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) of Abbott Park, IL; Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMS); Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, NJ; and Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, among others. Shares in a potential $15 billion market await contenders who can field an oral drug combination that suppresses the hepatitis C virus, which can lead to liver damage or liver cancer if the infection goes unchecked.

—The gene sequencing startup Nabsys of Providence, RI, raised $20 million from venture firms in a Series D financing that will pay for the commercial rollout of its technology. Nabsys uses nanoscale electronic detectors that speed along DNA molecules collecting spot data on both the sequence and position of DNA base pairs. The novel electronic sequencing method can create a roadmap that assists scientists to assemble whole-genome sequences, the company says. New investor Bay City Capital led the financing round, joined by previous investors including Point Judith Capital and Stata Venture Partners.

Protein Sciences of Meriden, CT, which won FDA approval for the first egg-free, recombinant influenza vaccine this year, now plans to market the drug as a premium product attractive to health conscious people—who may still be worried about the ingredients of more traditional vaccines even if researchers say their fears are unfounded. Protein Sciences CEO Manon Cox says the company may charge an initial price of as much as $30 for the vaccine during its first full winter flu season of sales starting later this year. The vaccine, to be marketed under the name Flublok, may face stiff competition from major drug companies, especially those making new flu vaccines that protect against four flu virus strains instead of the usual three.

—Parsippany, NJ-based IMS Health, a major provider of drug prescribing data that helps pharmaceutical companies tailor their marketing campaigns, has agreed to acquire Seattle-based Appature, which makes software that helps clients analyze those reams of marketing data. IMS, a private company, did not disclose the purchase price for Appature, a startup founded in 2007 and backed by VC firms Madrona Venture Group and Ignition Partners. Appature CEO Kabir Shahani , who will stay on in Seattle as the local general manager, called the deal a “great return” for investors and the company’s 60 employees.

—You’ll never understand the life sciences industry unless you understand baseball. If you don’t believe this, check out Luke Timmerman’s second annual “BioBeat-meets-baseball” column. Guess which companies take first place in these categories: Comeback Kid, Wild Card, and Huge-Contract-That’s-Not-Paying-Off-So-Well.

Clue: East Coast companies grab quite a few of the awards, including some in Cambridge, MA, and New York.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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