Raleigh-Durham Roundup: Targacept, Causam Energy, Merz, & Google

7/31/14Follow @frankvinluan

Targacept fails another clinical trial and suggests a possible change in course. Meanwhile, Causam Energy announces an acquisition and Merz completes one. Read about these and other headlines in this roundup of North Carolina technology and biotech news.

—North Carolina biotech company Targacept (NASDAQ:TRGT) is halting work on an experimental drug to treat incontinence after phase 2 studies showed mixed results. The announcement for TC-5214 marked the second time in two weeks that the Winston-Salem, NC, company reported unsuccessful clinical trial results. On July 14, Targacept said its Alzheimer’s disease drug candidate failed in mid-stage clinical trials. Targacept, which does not yet have any FDA-approved drugs, has had a string of clinical trial failures dating to the 2012 phase 3 failure of a depression drug candidate, which AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) held the rights to license.

Targacept has failed in trials developing drugs for asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia. The company’s technology is based on R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. research on receptors in the brain for nicotine. Following Targacept’s latest clinical trial failure, the company opened the door to pursuing something beyond nicotinic receptors.

“As part of our scenarios planning over the past 12 months, we have considered a broad range of options for the optimal use of our resources, including the pursuit of non-nicotinic opportunities,” CEO Stephen Hill said in a statement.

—Smart grid software company Causam Energy has a deal in place to buy Power Analytics Corporation, a company that also provides software to manage energy. Raleigh-based Causam said the combination of the two companies will accelerate development of communications and analytics software for the power grid. Power Analytics has offices in San Diego and Raleigh.

No financial terms were disclosed for the deal, but it comes after Causam raised $2 million from investors, which Causam CFO David Bass tells the Triangle Business Journal will provide capital for product development. After the merger is complete, Power Analytics will operate as a Causam subsidiary.

—Merz North America, based in North Carolina, finalized its acquisition of medical device company Ulthera, a deal valued at up to $600 million in upfront cash and milestone payments—the largest deal in Merz history.

Merz North America is the U.S.-based unit of German company Merz Pharma Group. Merz North America markets products in cosmetics, dermatology and neurosciences. Ulthera recently received FDA clearance on a medical device that uses ultrasound to offer non-invasive treatment of lines and wrinkles in the chest. The device already had FDA clearance to lift skin on the brow, neck, and under the chin.

In mid-July, Merz announced plans it would relocate its North American headquarters from Greensboro to Raleigh, a move that will occur in phases over the course of the next year.

—Google wants to find out what exactly makes a healthy human being, and it is turning to Duke and Stanford for help in a clinical study. Google is calling its project “Baseline Study,” and it will start with 175 healthy volunteers before expanding to thousands.

Baseline won’t be restricted to any particular disease and will collect samples using an array of diagnostic tools, the Wall Street Journal reported. Google will then use its computing power to find patterns in the data that could be indicative of disease. Similar to clinical trials involving pharmaceuticals, Baseline will be monitored by an institutional review board. Duke and Stanford will recruit volunteers for the study.

Frank Vinluan is a contributing editor at Xconomy, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan@xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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