East Coast Biotech Roundup: Berg, Forma/Celgene, Intarcia, & More

4/4/14Follow @benthefidler

Big ambitions, and creative, risk-sharing deals—two concepts that often go hand in hand with biotech. They’re also the themes of two of the big stories on the East Coast this week. Those and plenty more below.

—Drug discovery is expensive, time-consuming business. Framingham, MA-based Berg Pharma thinks it’s found a way to make it quicker and cheaper. Backed by billionaire Carl Berg and based around a system that combines biological models, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, and a whole variety of omics, Berg has built itself into a roughly 200-person company with three divisions and some ambitious goals. Now the question is whether Berg can deliver on its promise of efficiency and create drugs that really make a difference. I spoke with Berg president and chief technology officer Niven Narain and adviser (and genomics leader) Eric Schadt about the venture, and the challenges that lie ahead.

—When Watertown, MA-based Forma Therapeutics introduced itself to Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) last year, it didn’t just add another drug discovery partner—it found what may be its future buyer as well. The two companies this week cut a big deal that could not only see Forma receive up to $600 million in new non-dilutive cash, but also potentially lead to it being acquired by Celgene down the road at a price that depends on the value Forma creates over time. I spoke with Forma CEO Steven Tregay about the creative, multi-stage deal structure, and the mechanisms in place to protect Forma should Celgene decide to walk away.

—Hayward, CA and Boston-based Intarcia Therapeutics burst on the scene a few years ago with a $210 million private financing round to develop an implantable drug/device combination therapy for type 2 diabetes. With that treatment, known as ITCA 650, currently going through a large Phase 3 clinical trial, Intarcia loaded up this week with another big helping of cash. It raised $200 million in equity financing led by new investor RA Capital and including help from Farallon Capital Management, Foresite Capital, Franklin Templeton, Fred Alger Management, New Leaf Venture Partners, Quilvest, and three other unspecified “large top-tier institutional investors” that took part in its last financing. Intarcia expects its Phase 3 trial to wrap up in early 2016. ITCA 650 is a tiny, implantable pump that steadily secretes diabetes drug exenatide to keep blood sugar levels in check.

—Foresite Capital poured $57 million into that Intarcia round, and it used cash from its latest fund—a $300 million fund launched this week—to do it. Foresite started up Foresite Capital II, a fund specifically earmarked for investments in established, late-stage biotechs and other healthcare companies. The fund follows up Foresite’s first effort, a $100 million fund it raised in January 2013 for the same purpose. A number of Foresite’s investments are, accordingly, well along in their development, like Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM), Karyopharm (NASDAQ: KPTI), and Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX).

—Blueprint Health, the New York-based healthtech accelerator, unveiled its latest class of graduates this week, many of which have developed applications they’ll try to sell to hospitals. I attended the demo day Thursday at the City Winery in SoHo. Here’s my rundown of the new class.

—New York legislators gave the area’s life sciences scene a funding jump this week, committing up to $160 million of the state’s budget to initiatives in genomics and health tech. Lawmakers set $105 million of that funding for a partnership between the New York Genome Center and the University of Buffalo’s Center for Computational Research, a pact that enables the NYGC to tap into the CCR’s large-scale computing capabilities. The remaining $55 million will help complete the Statewide Health Information Network of New York, or SHIN-NY, a centralized system of electronic health records for the state.

—Lexington, MA-based Curis (NASDAQ: CRIS) got some good news from the FDA this week, as the agency lifted a partial clinical hold on the company’s experimental cancer drug, CUDC-427. With the hold lifted, Curis can now proceed with the early-stage trial that the FDA halted in November. The agency stopped the trial for safety precautions—the liver enzymes of one patient taking CUDC-427 spiked during treatment, and didn’t subside after discontinuing the drug. That patient died about a month later. Curis has … 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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