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East Coast Biotech Roundup: NY Bio Fund, Sarepta, ZappRx, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Biotech clusters don’t happen overnight. Entrepreneurs, government agencies, academics, and others have to build them from the ground up. It takes years, a committed, collaborative effort, and an awful lot of money. That’s the kind of thing that’s going on in New York right now.

There’s a long, long way to go, of course—Boston and San Francisco have fully formed clusters and are light-years ahead—but at a gathering at Rockefeller University on Monday (pictured at right) attended by many of the region’s most influential biotech names, New York’s life sciences scene took an important step forward. That story and the rest of your East Coast headlines below.

—Chris Garabedian resigned as the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT), and was replaced by longtime chief medical officer Edward Kaye on an interim basis while the company searches for a new leader. Sarepta didn’t give a specific reason for the change, but executives on a conference call mentioned the need to work “collaboratively” with the FDA several times. Garabedian and Sarepta had an unusually contentious relationship with the agency throughout the company’s quest to win FDA approval of a Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy drug called eteplirsen—a roller-coaster ride that’s made Sarepta one of the more volatile biotechs out there.

—As I reported on Monday, the New York City Economic Development Corp. finally found the venture firms to manage its Big Apple life sciences fund—biotech startup creators Flagship Ventures and Arch Venture Partners. The fund is now worth $150 million (up from a previous $100 million): Flagship will manage $90 million for therapeutics startups, and Arch will have $60 million to start up diagnostics, med tech, and other life sciences companies. The NYCEDC also aims to create more wet lab space in Manhattan by, among other things, turning a 14-story building on the East Side into a “bioscience research center.”

—Waltham, MA-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals cut a deal with Merck to test its cancer drug, entinostat, in combination with Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda). The deal is part of the strategic shift CEO Arlene Morris explained to me back in February.

—Boston-based ZappRx—which aims to automate the clunky process of ordering and receiving specialty medications—signed up its first customer, Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN), leading to a $5.6 million Series A round from SR One and Atlas Venture.

—Just days after raising a $22 million equity financing, Gelesis, the PureTech startup developing a hydrogel anti-obesity pill, filed for an IPO.

—New York-based Quartet Health raised a $7 million Series A from Oak HC/FT managing partner Annie Lamong, Shulman Ventures, Fidelity Biosciences, and Polaris Partners. The startup is using a cloud-based data collection service to help better connect primary care patients and their physicians with behavioral health specialists.

—It didn’t take CoLucid Pharmaceuticals long to settle into its new digs in Cambridge. The migraine drug developer, fresh off a move from Durham, NC, filed papers to go public.

—Cambridge-based Aegerion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AEGR) reached an agreement with activist shareholder Sarissa Capital Management, which acquired a 5.8 percent stake in Aegerion a few months ago, intending to “engage in discussions” with the company. Sarissa gets to name one new independent director to Aegerion’s board, with the option to add another next January. In return, Sarissa will support all of Aegerion’s board-recommended nominees at a shareholder meeting this year.

—Two Boston area startups, X-Chem and Navitor Pharmaceuticals, made a deal this week. Navitor will tap X-Chem’s drug discovery platform to identify small molecules that impact mTORC1, a well-known signaling pathway that Navitor is focused on. Navitor would get an exclusive license to any drugs coming from that discovery work. I profiled Navitor in June. X-Chem, meanwhile, was acquired by contract research organization PPD in September.

—New York and San Diego-based Retrophin (NASDAQ: RTRX) continued its management overhaul this week. Jeffrey Meckler will be the company’s new chairman, replacing Steve Richardson, who chose not to stand for re-election at Retrophin’s shareholder meeting later this year.

—Shares of Burlington, MA-based Dyax (NASDAQ: DYAX) surged more than 55 percent this week after the company released positive results from a Phase 1b study of a drug it’s developing for hereditary angioedema, a rare disease that causes painful swelling of the face, airways, and stomach. Dyax also got a fast-track designation from the FDA for the drug, known as DX-2390.

—Waltham-based Kala Pharmaceuticals said two of the clinical trials it’s been running for an eye drug called KP-121 succeeded this week: a Phase 2 study in dry eye disease, and a Phase 3 trial for pain following cataract surgery. KP-121 is a new formulation of the steroid loteprednol etabonate (Lotemax) that uses Kala’s nanoparticle delivery system.

—The FDA granted orphan drug status to Cambridge-based Idera Pharmaceuticals’s (NASDAQ: IDRA) IMO-8400, a drug Idera is developing for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

—Cambridge-based Karyopharm Therapeutics (NASDAQ: KPTI) named Pfizer R&D chief Mikael Dolsten to its board of directors.

—Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI), also of Cambridge, exercised a $52.5 million option to buy royalties to cancer drug duvelisib that would have been owed to Takeda.