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Novartis Deal Could Boost Ascent by $200M, Ariad’s Boardroom Drama Comes to Light, Targanta Takes Another Hit, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

Boston-area life sciences firms made a good showing at two important meetings this week. Luke and Ryan gave the rundown on those, and took a look at a couple very interesting startups.

—Ryan checked in with Frank Reynolds, spinal-cord-injury survivor and CEO of InVivo Therapeutics, about the progress of his company’s Cambridge, MA-based effort to develop an implant that could prevent some cases of paralysis. With $3 million from family and friends (so far) and technology initially developed in the famous Langer lab at MIT, InVivo could get FDA clearance to begin human testing of its polymer-based device next year.

—Cambridge, MA-based Ascent Therapeutics inked a deal worth as much as $200 million with Novartis; the agreement would give the drug giant rights to co-develop Ascent’s new class of treatments, called “pepducins.”

Xconomist David Resnick shared his hope that the Obama administration will breathe new life into two areas of life sciences: embryonic stem cell research and personalized medicine.

Sirtris CEO Christoph Westphal was tapped to help lead GlaxoSmithKline’s Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery and help GSK form alliances that will strengthen its pipeline. Westphal will also continue to run Cambridge, MA-based Sirtris, which GSK acquired in June for $720 million.

—We dispatched Ryan to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s annual MassBio Investors Forum, a sort of a mixer for local biotechs and the various investors, partners, and other backers who (hopefully) keep them going. With traditional sources of cash scarce this year, the MBC put more emphasis on funding from disease foundations such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The FDA declined to approve an application from Cambridge, MA-based Targanta Therapeutics (NASDAQ:TARG) for its antibiotic oritavancin as a treatment for complicated skin and skin structure infections. Targanta will need to conduct additional clinical studies to demonstrate safety and effectiveness of the drug, the agency said.

—Luke got a chemistry-class refresher from the kind folks at Waltham, MA-based startup Avila Therapeutics. With backing from Polaris Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, Abingworth Management, and Advent Venture Partners, Avila is trying to develop a new class of small-molecule drugs that form stronger bonds with their targets (covalent bonds, to be precise) than do typical small-molecule drugs.

—Korean biotech firm Osteogenic Core Technologies reportedly plans to open a 30-scientist-strong outpost in Cambridge, MA, via its OCT USA unit. OCT develops treatments for osteoporosis and arthritis, and plans to spend $8 million to $10 million over the next three years on the new Massachusetts office.

—Cambridge, MA-based genetic-analysis toolmaker Helicos Biosciences revealed it will cut some 30 jobs, or about 30 percent of its staff, by the end of the year.

—Just weeks after announcing plans to merge with privately held Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Archemix, Lexington, MA-based NitroMed (NASDAQ:NTMD) revealed it has received an unsolicited acquisition bid from investment group Deerfield Management. The latest deal would bring NitroMed for 50 cents per share in cash, a 40 percent premium on its closing price on the day the offer was announced of 30 cents per share.

—Luke followed the unfolding boardroom drama at Cambridge, MA-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARIA). First, four of the biotech company’s nine directors quit, accusing CEO Harvey Berger of “grossly inappropriate” and “manipulative” conduct related to a merger with an Ariad subsidiary. Then Berger defended himself in a conference call with investors, firing back at the directors who had resigned and what he called their “false and misleading statements.” You can expect round three in next week’s roundup, I’m sure.

—Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge-Ma based unit of Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceuticals, unveiled another year’s worth of follow-up data supporting the claim that its cancer drug bortezomib (Velcade) can prolong the lives of patients with the bone-marrow cancer multiple myeloma. The latest data, reported at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, buttresses findings reported last year, to a standing ovation, at the same event.