East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Agios, Ludwig/CRI, Celgene

6/14/13Follow @benthefidler

Two things you were able to count on this week if you live in New York: rain, rain, and more rain, and another Beantown biotech entering the IPO queue. We’ve got that and more in this week’s roundup:

—Cambridge, MA-based Agios Pharmaceuticals has become the latest in what’s been a parade of biotechs to file for an IPO this year, revealing plans to raise $86 million from public investors. Agios has yet to set a range for the offering or say how many shares it plans to sell, but it will trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol “AGIO.” The company is creating cancer drugs designed to starve cancer cells by blocking the mutated metabolic enzymes that feed them. Agios’s largest shareholders are Third Rock Ventures (23.7 percent stake), Celgene (17.1 percent), Arch Venture Partners (16.4 percent), Flagship Ventures (16.4 percent), and entities associated with Fidelity Management (9.9 percent). Celgene alone has poured $178.7 million into Agios in collaboration payments and equity financing.

—Two New York-based non-profit organizations, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Cancer Research Institute, formed a partnership with Immune Design that will give investigators running clinical trials at the two institutions the right to add two of the Seattle-based company’s drugs into studies testing combinations of cancer immunotherapies. Ludwig and CRI already have a deal in place with AstraZeneca’s MedImmune unit, giving them the freedom to use three of MedImmune’s cancer antibodies in those trials. Immune Design’s plan is to show that its experimental drugs—a vaccine (LV305) designed to stimulate an immune system response, and a synthetic chemical compound known as an adjuvant (glucopyranosyl lipid A) used to boost the vaccine’s effectiveness—-can help cancer immunotherapies work better, opening the door for potential partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) was pretty active this week. Not only did it announce $3 billion in share buybacks, but it also released extended results on Wednesday at the European Congress of Rheumatology’s annual meeting in Madrid of its first late-stage clinical trial for apremilast, an oral drug for patients with psoriatic arthritis. Celgene had already showed that apremilast improved patients’ symptoms over a 24 week period; now it showed that trend continued for a full 52 weeks. Celgene said 63 percent of patients taking a 20-milligram dose of apremilast and 55 percent of those taking a 30-milligram dose saw a 20 percent reduction in the signs and symptoms of their disease, over 52 weeks. Should Celgene win FDA approval for apremilast, it plans to target patients who don’t respond to disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate before they’re put on injectable biologic drugs such as adalimumab (Humira). Celgene has said it plans to make apremilast cheaper than biologics.

—The FDA this week rejected Cambridge, MA-based Aveo Oncology’s (NASDAQ: AVEO) tivozanib as a treatment for kidney cancer, recommending that the biotech run an additional clinical trial before it can win regulatory approval. The decision was widely expected given the outcome of a May 2 FDA advisory panel, which thoroughly blasted the company’s design for its late-stage clinical trial. Aveo has already said that it has turned its attention to two mid-stage studies testing tivozanib in colorectal and triple-negative breast cancer. Those studies, being run with the help of partner Astellas Pharma, will produce data next year.

—Former Bristol-Myers Squibb executive Robert Ramnarine pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud for buying stock options in Amylin Pharmaceuticals before the New York-based pharmaceutical giant paid $5.3 billion for it in June 2012. Federal prosecutors accused Ramnarine of making $55,784 by selling those options after the buyout and $311,361 in illegal profits by trading in several Bristol-Myers acquisition targets such as Pharmasset and ZymoGenetics. Bristol-Myers bid on Pharmasset before Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) acquired it for $11 billion in 2011; it bought ZymoGenetics for $885 million in 2010. Ramnarine faces up to 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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