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East Coast Biotech Roundup: PureTech, Celgene, Unum, Biogen & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Deal flow is in full swing on the East Coast. At least three life sciences startups launched out of Boston and New York this week, with a few other firms filling up their bank accounts with either new funding rounds or partnership deals. Those stories and plenty more below:

—Boston-based PureTech raised $55 million from a group of investors led by Invesco Perpetual, one of the largest investment fund managers in the U.K. I spoke with PureTech CEO Daphne Zohar about the raise, which should enable PureTech not only to launch a planned three to five startups in the coming year, but to pour a bunch of new cash—on top of that $55 million—into the existing ones in its portfolio.

—Cambridge, MA-based Quartet Medicine came out of stealth this week with a $17 million Series A round from Atlas Venture, the venture arms of Pfizer and Novartis, and Partners Innovation Fund. The company aims to exploit new insights into the well-known tetrahydrobioprotein pathway to develop drugs for chronic pain conditions and bridge the gap between animals and the human trials that have doomed so many other pain drugs.

—Cambridge-based Unum Therapeutics also launched this week, raising $12 million from Atlas, Fidelity Biosciences, and Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures. Unum is joining the increasing crowd of companies touting ways to reprogram the immune system to seek out and attack tumors with chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T. Unum’s twist on the concept is cancer treatments with a so-called “antibody-coupled T-cell receptor,” meaning it’s engineering T cells to find tumors with the help of antibodies.

—Dublin drug giant Actavis (NYSE: ACT) paid $40 million up front for an option to acquire a drug Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals is developing to treat diabetic gastroparesis called relamorelin. Actavis can exercise an option to buy the drug, and Rhythm Health, the Rhythm subsidiary that owns it, after a Phase 2b trial that is expected to begin by early 2015. Separately, Rhythm also announced positive results from a Phase 2 trial of relamorelin in chronic constipation.

—Waltham, MA-based Proteon Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PRTO) debuted on Nasdaq this week after raising $61 million in an IPO. Proteon had to sell more shares (6.1 million instead of 4.7 million) at a lower price ($10 instead of $12 to $14) than it initially planned to, however.

—Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) said this week that CEO Mike Bonney will step down from his post on Dec. 31 and hand the reins to the company over to COO Robert Perez. Bonney has led Cubist for 12 years, and seen it rise from an antibiotics startup without a marketed product to a mid-cap biotech worth more than $5 billion.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) gave investors a glimpse into why it paid some $710 million up front and potentially $2.6 billion overall to an Irish drugmaker, Nogra Pharma, for the rights to an oral antisense drug for Crohn’s Disease. The company revealed data from a 166-patient Phase 2 study showing the drug, mongerson, helped induce remissions in a broad range of Crohn’s patients. Celgene will begin testing the drug in a Phase 3 trial by the end of the year. As Alex Lash reported, Celgene also cut a deal with Sutro Biopharma giving it an option to acquire the South San Francisco, CA-based company for an undisclosed sum.

—In case you missed it, I posted a slideshow this week from our latest local biotech event, “Boston’s Life Science Disruptors,” which featured executives and investors from Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN), Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM), and Sage Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SAGE).

—Harris & Harris Group announced it’s formed a New York-based startup called Tara Biosystems. The Columbia University spinout is developing organ-on-a-chip technology to help boost the effectiveness of preclinical drug testing. Harris didn’t disclose the size of its investment, but managing director Misti Ushio is serving as the company’s founding CEO. The startup’s first project will be “heart-on-a-chip” tissue models.

—New York-based Phreesia got a $30 million investment led by private equity firm LLR Partners, with participation from existing backers HLM Ventures and Ascension Ventures. Phreesia has developed a wireless tablet computer pad that helps patients check in for appointments at the doctor’s office and make payments electronically.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) dropped about 7 percent after the company disclosed that a patient taking its oral multiple sclerosis drug, dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) died from a rare brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Quarterly sales of the drug also came in slightly lower than consensus analyst estimates. Separately, Biogen hired neuroscientists Christopher Henderson and Richard Ransohoff to help its discovery and development efforts in neurodegenerative diseases.

—The FDA this week extended its review of Bedminster, NJ-based NPS Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: NPSP) engineered version of human parathyroid hormone, known as Natpara, by three months and asked the company to submit a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy for the drug. An FDA advisory panel voted in favor of the drug, 8-5, in September, but the close vote left lingering questions about its commercial potential and what type of label the drug would get, if approved. The FDA will now decide whether to approve the drug by Jan. 24.

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