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New RNAi Drugs, Major Cutbacks at Targanta, Big Partnerships for Arqule and Archemix, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

There was quite a bit of news this week relating to RNA-interference drugs, and to FDA approval (or non-approval, as the case may be) of drugs under development by local biotechs. Without further ado:

—It was sports week for Ryan. First, he interviewed biotech hedge fund founder Rich Aldrich, part of the group that owns the Boston Celtics, who said why he’s excited about Alnylam, Alnara, and the future of his fund. Then he talked with David Lucchino, CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Semprus Biosciences and nephew of Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, about Semprus’s $8 million Series A round and its plans to develop longer-lasting polymer-based surface materials for plastic and metal medical implants.

—Yet another new pharmaceutical company focusing on RNA-interference, Norwood, MA-based AiRNA, emerged from stealth mode, with a focus on so-called asymmetrical interfering RNA molecules 15 base pairs in length, which are shorter (and may therefore have fewer side effects) than the RNAi molecules being developed by Alnylam and others. Alnylam, meanwhile, announced it has filed an application with the FDA to start the first clinical trials of its systemic RNAi anti-cancer drug, ALN-VSP.

—In Waltham, MA, Entra Pharmaceuticals collected the first $4.2 million of what could end up being a $12.5 million Series A venture round, with Flybridge Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners participating.

—BioTrove of Woburn, MA, changed its mind about going public in the current market, canceling the planned $75 million IPO for which it first filed eight months ago.

—Weeks after news that the FDA had declined to approve its lead drug candidate, an antibiotic intended to treat the MRSA infection, Cambridge, MA-based Targanta Therapeutics laid off 86 employees, about three-quarters of its staff.

—In a private offering of its stock, genetic analysis tools maker Helicos Biosciences of Cambridge, MA, raised $18 million after third-quarter losses of $11.4 million.

—There was more bad news for Biogen Idec as a U.S. patient taking its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri died from a rare brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy; she was one of four people to be diagnosed with the infection since Tysabri’s re-introduction in 2006, but the first to lose her life.

—Woburn, MA-based Arqule struck a $60 million deal with Tokyo-based Daiichi Sankyo under which it will co-develop a cancer drug with the lyrical name ARQ-197. In other partnership news, Archemix of Cambridge, MA, inked a deal with GlaxoSmithKline to develop seven drugs related to its proprietary “aptamers” or short DNA and RNA strings; the deal will bring in $27.5 million in up-front payments and up to $200 million in milestone payments.

—Amgen, which has shown in clinical trials that its new drug denosumab can lower the risk of spinal fractures in women, applied for FDA clearance to sell the drug for the treatment of osteoporosis and to prevent bone loss in chemotherapy patients. Meanwhile, after a five-year wait, Lexington, MA-based Epix Pharmaceuticals learned that the FDA has approved its compound Vasovist, a contrast agent for MRI scans of narrowing arteries.

—Sermo, the Cambridge, MA-based private social network for physicians, announced it has set up an online flu tracker where members can upload information about patients with flu symptoms; the hope is that doctors in areas known to be affected by flu outbreaks will be able to use the information to make faster treatment decisions.

—Genzyme Ventures, Baxter International, and several other investors put up $12 million for a Series D financing round at KalBios Pharmaceuticals, a South San Francisco biotech developing antibody fragments as treatments for bacterial infections in cystic fibrosis patients.

—Finally, Cambridge, MA-based Molecular Insight Pharmaceuticals said yesterday it was able to detect early signs of cardiac ischemia, or reduced blood flow to the heart, in Phase II study participants using its experimental imaging agent Zemiva.