The post-J.P. Morgan hangover set in this week. Biotech news slowed, largely aside from President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative and a parade of follow-on financings, which we’ll detail below. Indeed, as 2015 kicks off, optimism remains unbridled in the sector: the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index (NASDAQ: IBB) is hitting record highs. Will we end the year in the same bull market? Biotechs are cashing in before finding out.
—Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) raised $450 million this week in a stock offering, adding to an already sizeable $880 million war chest of cash. While Alnylam mentioned using some of that cash for “potential acquisitions” in a statement, CEO John Maraganore told me otherwise when we caught up at J.P. Morgan last week before the raise (“We’re not looking to buy anything, because everything we have inside is what we want to invest in,” he said). What’s more, he’s got a different type of deal on his mind: another broad alliance in the mold of the partnership Alnylam has with Genzyme.
Alnylam was one of several local biotechs to tap the capital markets for cash this week. Here are the others (and as a note, some of these figures could increase if underwriters exercise options to buy additional shares):
—Parsippany, NJ-based Agile Therapeutics (NASDAQ: AGRX) priced 3.4 million shares at $5.85 apiece, for $20 million in gross proceeds. These shares were sold via a private placement to certain institutional investors.
—In other news, Lexington, MA-based Curis (NASDAQ: CRIS) jumped into the immuno-oncology gold rush this week, cutting a deal with India’s Aurigene Discovery Technologies to discover and develop small molecule checkpoint inhibitors (drugs that help the immune system identify tumors). Curis issued Aurigene 17.1 million shares, or 19.9 percent of its outstanding stock, as part of the deal. It could also pay Aurigene various milestones and royalties if drugs that come out of the collaboration progress.
—FierceBiotech reported on Sunday that Cambridge-based Constellation Pharmaceuticals laid off 23 workers, preparing to potentially go it alone if Genentech doesn’t exercise its option to buy the company. Genentech paid Constellation—a player in the field of epigenetics—$95 million in up front cash and three years of research support back in 2012, which gave it the right to acquire the company down the road.
—Lamberto Andreotti is retiring as CEO of New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) on May 5, clearing the way for Giovanni Caforio to take over the head seat. Andreotti will become Bristol’s executive chairman once he leaves his current post.
—Waltham-based Repligen (NASDAQ: RGEN) said that CEO Walter Herlihy , who has led the company for nearly two decades, will retire on May 21; current chief operating officer Tony Hunt will take over for Herlihy once the longtime CEO officially steps down. You can read more about the transition in this report from the Boston Business Journal.
—Kenilworth, NJ-based Merck (NYSE: MRK) completed its tender offer to buy the shares of Cubist (NASDAQ: CBST) at $102 apiece. The deal is expected to close early this year.
—In another sign of how the treatment landscape for hepatitis C has changed, Merck has stopped selling boceprevir (Victrelis) in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) made a similar decision a few months ago with telaprevir (Incivek). The introduction of all-oral regimens that can wipe the disease out in just a few months without incorporating interferon (which carried nasty flu-like symptoms) has rendered drugs like boceprevir and telaprevir nearly obsolete.
—Waltham-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals pulled itself off the IPO queue on Friday. Syndax had been planning to raise cash from the public markets to fund a Phase 3 study of its cancer drug prospect, entinostat—it filed for an IPO some 10 months ago. The company, however, never made it public; a few weeks back it went a different direction for some cash, signing a $100 million licensing deal with Japan’s Kyowa Hakko Kirin.