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Avila Sets Out to Take on Vertex, CombinatoRx Nails FDA Approval, Millipore Opts for Merck KGaA over Thermo Fisher, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

Stories of drugmakers, deals, health IT companies, and even some nonprofits made it a busy life sciences news week for us.

Waltham’s Avila Therapeutics is on a quest to outdo well-known Boston drugmaker Vertex Pharmaceuticals when it comes to treating hepatitis C, Luke wrote last week. The company’s drugs rely on forming covalent bonds to shut down targets on virus-infected cells, preventing the virus from mutating and escaping, which could give it an edge on the Vertex drug that has varying degrees of effectiveness on different mutations of hepatitis C, Avila’s CEO said.

—Dossia, a Cambridge, MA-based nonprofit electronic health records provider, rolled out its system to another two of its founding companies. Computer chip maker Intel and mail system provider Pitney Bowes will offer some of their workers the Dossia system, which is sustained by subscription fees and is designed to lower overall healthcare costs for corporate clients.

Speaking of electronic health records, Athenahealth is looking for some opinions on the matter and announced a partnership with Cambridge’s doctors-only social networking site Sermo to get just that. Financial terms of the partnership between Sermo and Watertown, MA-based Athena (NASDAQ:ATHN), a maker of Internet healthcare software, weren’t revealed.

— Millipore shook things up this week when it announced plans to accept a bid from Germany’s Merck KGaA, which offered to buy the company for $107 a share, or $7.2 billion. Thermo Fisher had previously made an unsolicited $6 billion bid for the Billerica, MA-based life sciences equipment supplier, according to media reports.

—Stealthy Guilford, CT and San Francisco-based startup Ion Torrent Systems opened up a bit to discuss its digital DNA readout technology, leaving plenty of genomic science bloggers buzzing. And the machine from Ion Torrent, which is advised by a Harvard genomics pioneer and supported by a Seattle partner, costs one-tenth of the price of competing products.

— CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX) secured FDA approval for its pain drug hydromorphone HCL (Exalgo), an extended-release tablet to treat moderate to severe aches and pains that became part of the firm’s drug lineup when it merged with Vancouver-based Neuromed Pharmaceuticals. It represents Cambridge-based CombinatoRx’s first drug approval and earned the company a $40 million payment from Covidien (NYSE:COV), which has the U.S. rights to Exalgo and plans to begin selling the drug the first half of this year.

—Boston-based software firm Amicas warmed up to a prospective buyout from competitor Merge Healthcare, which had offered to buy the company at $6.05 a share. Amicas’ board criticized the Merge bid last month as an attempt to interfere with a deal offered by private equity firm Thoma Bravo, and had previously agreed to accept Thoma Bravo’s $5.35-per-share offer. But now the company’s board is giving Thoma Bravo until March 8 to top the Merge offer, and has scheduled a shareholder vote on the buyout proposals for March 16.

—Ryan profiled an under-the-radar cystic fibrosis research nonprofit, CFRx, started by Braintree, MA real estate developer John Flatley as an attempt to find a cure for the disease, which affects one of his family members. A former scientist from Genzyme helped launch the nonprofit, which is funded by the Flatley Foundation created by Flatley’s deceased real estate tycoon and philanthropist father.

—Luke caught up with Tolerx, a Cambridge company that aims to create drugs that train the immune systems of people with autoimmune conditions to tolerate healthy tissues. It announced in January it had enrolled patients in a study to test its drug’s effectiveness in extending Type 1 diabetes patients’ natural ability to produce insulin.