East Coast Biotech Roundup: Dicerna, J&J, Neurophage, & More

1/31/14Follow @benthefidler

[Updated, 8:44 am ET] Local biotechs were out for cash this week. One company saw its share price triple in its first day on the Nasdaq. Three others lined up stock offerings. And one large healthcare conglomerate promised to open its data vault to a group of university researchers. Those stories and more below:

—Watertown, MA-based Dicerna Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: DRNA) was Wall Street’s darling IPO this week. The company upsized its offering by 1 million shares, and then priced it at $15 per share, blowing past its projected $11 to $13 per share range. Public investors then piled into the stock, sending Dicerna’s shares flying to a first-day closing price of $46 and a market capitalization north of $700 million—a value it’s obtained despite not having even one of its RNA interference drug candidates in the clinic.

—New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) struck a deal with the Yale School of Medicine’s Open Data Access Project to unlock access to all of its company-sponsored studies. Other companies like GlaxoSmithKline have taken similar steps in the past. But as Xconomy’s National Biotech Editor Luke Timmerman writes, J&J’s deal is different in that it’s giving all the decision-making power over to an independent group of third-party experts at Yale.

—Many biotechs and pharmaceutical companies have tried to take on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, and many have failed. But Cambridge, MA-based Neurophage Pharmaceuticals is trying to attack those disorders in a whole new way—with a genetically-engineered fusion protein molecule that’s designed to soak up the excess plaques that accumulate in the brain. I spoke with Neurophage CEO Jonathan Solomon recently about the company’s method to broadly attack the so-called misfolded proteins implicated in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

—Getting a prescription for specialty medications is a big hassle. A recently-formed, Cambridge-based startup named ZappRx is trying to automate the entire process. ZappRx raised $1 million in seed cash this week from a group of investors including Atlas Venture and SR One, the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline, to develop its platform and make a few hires. I talked to ZappRx CEO Zoe Barry about how the idea for the company came together, and how she hopes to turn it into a successful business.

—Just eight months after pulling off one of 2013’s most successful biotech IPO’s, Cambridge-based Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM) announced plans to head back to Wall Street to raise up to $140 million more from public investors. The cash would help bankroll early clinical trials of EPZ-5676 and EPZ-6438, drug candidates it’s developing to treat patients with genetically-defined subtypes of blood cancers like acute myeloid leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Epizyme hasn’t priced the offering yet.

—AbbVie and Watertown, MA-based Enanta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ENTA) announced the latest results from their massive slate of late-stage clinical trials for hepatitis C, and the numbers continued to hold up, setting the stage for a big showdown with Gilead Sciences’ (NASDAQ: GILD) sofusbuvir (Sovaldi). AbbVie said it plans to file applications with regulators during the second quarter, and expects to begin selling the hepatitis C drugs it developed with Enanta later this year. I profiled Enanta’s rise from obscurity, meanwhile, last week.

—Cambridge, MA-based Idenix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IDIX), meanwhile, raised $106.7 million through a registered direct stock offering. Baupost Group bought 16,420,241 shares for $6.50 apiece, and in the process, upped its stake in Idenix to 35 percent from 27 percent. The cash will take Idenix through the second half of 2015.

—Waltham, MA-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) is also adding some cash to its bank account. It priced an offering of 3.2 million shares at $31.50 apiece, and expects to bring in a total of about $94.8 million in net proceeds. Tesaro’s shares closed at $31.30 on Thursday.

—[Updated with new item] Basking Ridge, NJ-based Regado Biosciences (NASDAQ: RGDO) aims to raise $20 million by selling 4 million shares at $5 apiece via a private placement. Regado, which is developing a two-pronged anticoagulant to be used in coronary procedures, went public in August.

—More bad news for Cambridge-based Aveo Oncology (NASDAQ: AVEO). The company and partner Astellas Pharma shut down a Phase II clinical trial designed to test Aveo’s drug tivozanib in patients with triple-negative breast cancer because they couldn’t enroll enough patients. It’s unclear what path forward, if any, Aveo has for tivozanib. The FDA previously rejected it as a kidney cancer treatment, and it later failed a separate mid-stage study in colorectal cancer.

—Lexington, MA-based Xenetic Biosciences got a new $10 million investment from Baxter International (NYSE: BAX) as part of a restructured collaboration deal between the two companies to develop longer-lasting hemophilia A treatments. The amended deal now includes up to $100 million in potential milestone payments for Xenetic, as well as a more generous royalty rate.

—A number of big local biotechs including Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), and Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) all reported their full results for 2013.

—We’ve added genomics expert Eric Schadt and Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR) CEO Ron Cohen to our lineup of speakers at our March 6 biotech event, “New York’s Life Science Disruptors.” The early bird discount for the event ends next week.

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

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