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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Vertex, Syndax, Build-to-Buy Deals & More

Xconomy Boston — 

We’ve got news all across the biotech spectrum this week. From startups raising funding, to up-and-comers pricing (or walking away from) IPOs, to more established companies agreeing to buy up fledglings. Your East Coast headlines below:

—Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) has undergone a transformation from a hepatitis C specialist to the dominant player in cystic fibrosis over the past few years. But Vertex is trying to build a pipeline outside of CF too, and a deal with a small Cambridge, MA-based startup called BioAxone Biosciences discreetly disclosed in the company’s Feb. 13 annual report is part of that makeover. Through the deal, Vertex licensed a spinal cord injury drug and an option to buy the small biotech at a predetermined price.

—Syndax Pharmaceuticals spent 10 months in the IPO queue before it cut a licensing deal with a Japanese drugmaker and dropped the offering. CEO Arlene Morris told me this week that the strategic pivot was born out of new preclinical data that emerged regarding its cancer drug, entinostat, showing that it might boost the effect of cancer immunotherapy “checkpoint” inhibitors. I spoke with Morris about the company’s plans, which include running combination trials with other checkpoint drugs.

—I recently wrote about The Medicines Co.’s (NASDAQ: MDCO) buyout of Cambridge startup Annovation BioPharma—an example of a “build-to-buy” biotech deal that resulted in an acquisition. This week, Medco executive Jason Campagna weighed in with an inside look at that transaction—and the overlooked challenges in these types of deals—from the buyer’s perspective.

—Lexington, MA-based Inotek Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ITEK) went public this week, but had to cut its IPO price and boost its share count to do so. Inotek is one of the companies developing a new approach to treating glaucoma; its progress is behind Bedminster, NJ-based Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI), which is testing its own potential treatment in Phase 3 studies.

—French pharma giant Sanofi this week named Bayer Healthcare chief Olivier Brandicourt its next CEO, replacing Chris Viehbacher, who was abruptly ousted last year. Viehbacher made a number of deals with biotechs—many of them in Boston, as Alex Lash wrote here.

—The Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) proxy war that CNBC reported a few weeks ago would soon take place is upon us. Sarissa Capital Management, the firm run by activist investor Alex Denner, is seeking the “imminent retirement” of Ariad CEO Harvey Berger, according to a regulatory filing. Sarissa wants to appoint partner Richard Mulligan and former Takeda executive Anna Protopapas to Ariad’s board, and unseat Berger and lead independent director Wayne Wilson in the process. Ariad responded Friday with a short statement that it received the memo, and “has no further comment at this time.”

—In case you missed it, we posted the full agenda this week for our latest Big Apple biotech event, “New York’s Life Science Disruptors,” which will take place on March 12.

—MedCity News reported this week that Cambridge startup Pronutria has raised $28.3 million in venture funding, citing an SEC filing. Pronutria, backed by Flagship Ventures and headed by Robert Connelly (CEO) and former Vertex scientist Peter Mueller (chief scientific officer), is developing oral biologics using an in-house library of DNA sequences for making certain amino acids. You can read more about the company here.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) won FDA approval to expand the use of lenalidomide (Revlimid); it’s now approved to treat newly diagnosed multiple myeloma patients in combination with dexamethasone.

—Hampton, NJ-based Bellerophon Therapeutics (NASDAQ: BLPH) closed its IPO this week, having raised $60 million by selling 5 million shares at $12 apiece. The company is developing drug-device combo therapies for conditions such as pulmonary arterial hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

—Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) and New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) finally settled their long-standing legal dispute over Boston Scientific’s $27 billion buyout of Guidant in 2004. J&J sued Boston Scientific for more than $7 billion in damages, claiming it had breached a deal that J&J had made previously with Guidant. The New York Times has more here. Boston Scientific is paying J&J $600 million as part of the settlement.