East Coast Biotech Roundup: VentriNova, RainDance, Biogen, & More

3/7/14Follow @benthefidler

Plenty of stories dot the roundup this week, as per usual. But on a personal note, I’d just like to say good luck to my colleague Luke Timmerman, who, as most Xconomy readers now know, is heading off to climb his latest mountain—a biography of Lee Hood. He’s a pro’s pro, a class act, and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with him (his Yankee-hating tendencies notwithstanding). With that said, here’s your East Coast biotech news:

—When a baby is born, a pretty important gene shuts down. New York-based startup VentriNova is trying to turn it back on, because that gene might just hold the key to repairing a damaged heart. VentriNova is developing a gene therapy procedure that would help regenerate cardiomyocytes, or muscle cells in the heart, after a heart attack. The startup, founded by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai regenerative medicine director Hina Chaudhry, recently published results from a study showing its therapy produced encouraging results in pigs. Still, there’s a long way to go, and plenty of competition. I spoke with Chaudhry about the journey ahead.

—Billerica, MA-based RainDance Technologies this week didn’t just raise money for the third time in the past 10 months, it also signaled that an IPO is likely on the way. RainDance hauled in $16.5 million from all of its existing investors, and a couple new ones—Northgate Capital, and GE Ventures, the latter of which has backed several companies to either go public of late or attempt to. RainDance, which makes tools used by research institutions and diagnostic companies, has now raised about $160 million in equity and debt financing since its inception in 2004. I talked to CEO Roopom Banerjee about the latest raise, and its implications for the company going forward.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) beefed up its pipeline of Alzheimer’s disease drug candidates this week when it cut a wide-ranging deal with Japan’s Eisai. Biogen grabbed the rights to co-develop and commercialize two experimental drugs Eisai has been developing for the memory robbing disorder, among them a beta secretase, or BACE inhibitor on the doorstep of a mid-stage clinical trial. Biogen also gave Eisai the option to share the rights, and development costs, of a few in-house Alzheimer’s drug prospects of its own. No financial terms were disclosed, though the deal includes an upfront payment for Eisai and various milestone payments.

—Hampton, NJ-based Celldex Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CLDX) this week dumped a drug candidate its been developing to treat an ultra-rare disorder called dense deposit disease, or DDD. Celldex said that it’s been hard to find patients to enroll—only one has been enrolled to date, and that patient didn’t respond well to treatment. So Celldex is shutting down the study and pouring all its resources into cancer immunotherapy. The Medarex spinout has five such drug candidates in clinical trials.

—Cambridge, MA-based Genocea Biosciences (NASDAQ: GNCA) looks to be tapping into a new potential use for its quick-hit vaccine platform. Genocea is teaming up with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School on a research deal through which the two institutions would use the company’s technology to discover T cell antigens—substances in vaccines that trigger an immune response—that could be used in cancer immunotherapy. To date, Genocea has already used its technology, which is supposed to significantly cut down the time it takes to discover antigens, to produce vaccine candidates for infectious diseases like genital herpes and pneumococcus.

—New York-based genetic testing startup Recombine raised a $3.3 million Series A round from a group led by FirstMark Capital and including Vast Ventures, Vivek Garipalli, Alexander Saint-Amand, and Flatiron Health co-founders Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner. Recombine has developed two genetic tests: CarrierMap, which is used to determine an individual’s chances of passing on over 200 genetic diseases to a child; and FertilityMap, which is used to help diagnose infertility and recurring miscarraiges. Recombine doesn’t sell its tests directly to consumers, which got 23andMe in trouble with the FDA—people can only get them through their doctors.

—Cambridge-based OvaScience (NASDAQ: OVAS) raised … Next Page »

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

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