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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Pre-J.P. Morgan Preening Edition

Xconomy Boston — 

It’s here again: J.P. Morgan week. Over the next few days, most everyone in healthcare will head to San Francisco for the industry’s biggest annual conference (a blessing for us East Coasters, who get a reprieve from the sub-zero wind chills).

Typically there’s a big deal or two preceding the conference. This year? A stampede of news from companies trying to grab the limelight before the festivities begin (or, on the other hand, get the bad news out of the way). Without further ado, let’s get right to it:

—Cambridge, MA-based Moderna Therapeutics on Monday grabbed a record $450 million private financing round with the help of “crossover” investors that typically invest in public companies. But nonetheless, company officials told me this week Moderna has no plans to hold an initial public offering anytime soon. A few days later, it formed Valera, its second incubated startup, which will focus on infectious diseases.

—Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) released long-awaited top-line data from a Phase 2 study of what’s known as “anti-LINGO-1,” a drug that’s being very closely watched because of its goal not just to slow the progression of the nerve damage that characterizes multiple sclerosis—but reverse it. (The drug’s name refers to the cellular target, lingo-1, it’s meant to block). The results come from a small study of patients with acute optic neuritis, typically the first sign of MS.

Biogen says it hit its main goal in the trial, but the results were decidedly mixed. The drug had no impact on key secondary measures, like an ability to improve the thickness of nerves in the eye. Shares of Biogen shot up early, as expectations were low for anti-LINGO-1, but the company ended the day down roughly 1 percent as investors digested the data. A Phase 2 study of the drug in MS patients is expected to produce data next year.

—Watertown, MA-based Blend Therapeutics raised $21 million in debt and equity financing to pursue its new strategy—making mini-smart bombs for cancer it’s calling “Pentarins.” I spoke with co-founder Omid Farokhzad about the strategy, a pivot from Blend’s original plan when it was founded a few years ago.

—Dublin and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) continued its transformation from a drug delivery specialist to a drug developer this week, producing positive results on two separate studies of drug candidates for schizophrenia (ALKS 3831) and major depressive disorder (ALKS 5461). Shares jumped around 10 percent on the news.

—Cambridge-based Zafgen (NASDASQ: ZFGN) reported good news from its third Phase 2 study of beloranib, this time in patients with obesity associated with injury to the hypothalamus. Shares of Zafgen have since surged about 25 percent.

—Cambridge-based Sage Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SAGE) provided the latest interim update from an early-stage study testing its drug for super refractory status epilepticus, a rare, life-threatening form of epilepsy. Response rates to the drug, SAGE-547, are still north of 70 percent now with 20 patients enrolled. You can read more about the trial in a story I wrote in November, when 12 patients were enrolled.

—Cambridge-based Surface Oncology launched this week with a $35 million Series A led by Atlas Venture, Fidelity Biosciences, New Enterprise Associates, and Lilly Ventures. The company intends to develop … Next Page »

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