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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Flagship, SQZ, Epizyme, IPOs & More

Xconomy Boston — 

We’ve got a new site launch, local IPOs, and much more to dig through in this week’s roundup. But first, a programming note to you Xconomy readers: I’ll be away on a long break, returning in late July. In the meantime, stay tuned to Alex Lash and David Holley, who will take the lead on your East Coast biotech news for the next few weeks. Enjoy your summer, everyone.

—Meet Exome, Xconomy’s new home for all things life sciences. We’ve spruced up the look of the new channel and added a few new bells and whistles to help gather all the biotech news you need into one place. Alex Lash has more on what you can expect. (And check out some guest posts this week from East Coast biotech execs Katrine Bosley, Jason Campagna, and Tony Coles.)

—Between a new fund, Denali Therapeutics, and the IPO of Seres Therapeutics (more on that below), Flagship Ventures has a lot on its plate. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech investor is also trying to boost new startups in the New York biotech scene. I spoke with CEO Noubar Afeyan about the atypical effort for Flagship and a range of other topics.

—Seres (NASDAQ: MCRB) has become the first microbiome drug developer to go public in the U.S., raising $134 million by selling 7.34 million shares at $18 apiece. But it isn’t the only organization out there offering a microbiome-based treatment for the bacterial infection clostridium difficile, or C. diff. Alex Lash explains more here about Seres and its position compared to a Boston non-profit called OpenBiome.

—Cambridge-based Catabasis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CATB) priced its IPO on Wednesday night, selling 5 million shares at $12 apiece to raise $60 million. Catabasis has done strategic tinkering over the past few years, and did more to complete this deal as well. It had hoped to sell 4.3 million shares between $13 and $15 apiece to get to $60 million.

—I profiled Boston-based SQZ Biotech and its “CellSqueeze” technology back when it won MassChallenge last year. This week, it became a venture-backed startup, getting a $5 million Series A round led by Polaris Partners. As David Holley explained, SQZ has shifted course. It’ll now focus on developing drugs, rather than selling its technology to universities and hospitals for research.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Epizyme (NASDQ: EPZM) climbed almost 30 percent this week after new data emerged from an early study of prospective cancer drug tazemetostat (EPZ-6438). Epizyme reacquired most of the rights to the drug from Eisai earlier this year.

—New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) reshuffled its R&D operations, announcing that it’ll open a new site in Cambridge (on 100 Binney St.) and close down sites in Wallingford, CT, and Waltham, MA, in 2018. Hundreds of employees from the sites in Wallingford, Waltham, and central New Jersey will be relocated to either Cambridge or an unspecified new location in Connecticut amidst the shuffle. Bristol is also officially discontinuing all virology research.

—Cambridge-based Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) sold 2,941,176 shares at $170 apiece this week, and expects to have grossed about $500 million by the time it completes the offering. Bluebird also cut a deal with Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE), of Santa Monica, CA, to combine its gene therapy and gene editing technologies with Kite’s cellular immunotherapy techniques to develop therapies for human papilloma virus-associated cancers.

—The Medicines Co. (NASDAQ: MDCO), of Parsippany, NJ, won FDA approval for the blood thinning drug cangrelor (Kengreal) this week, ending an up-and-down year in which an FDA advisory panel first voted against—and then later in favor of—the drug. Medicines was able to win support of the panel after reanalyzing the data from a late-stage study.

—Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) presented another interim look at an early study of its potential RNA interference treatment for hemophilia this week. Alnylam says it intends to start pivotal studies of the drug, ALN-AT3, in the middle of next year.

—The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has teamed with Google Genomics in an effort through which Google will make the Broad’s DNA analysis software—called “Genome Analysis Toolkit”—available in the cloud.

—Chris Viehbacher made his second Boston-related biotech move since being ousted as Sanofi’s CEO last year. He’s been named the managing partner of Waypoint Capital’s Cambridge-based investment fund, Gurnet Point Capital, which will have $2 billion to invest in healthcare companies. Earlier this year, Viehbacher joined Boston-based PureTech’s board of directors.

—Waltham, MA-based Forum Pharmaceuticals received a fast track designation from the FDA for its lead drug, encenicline, as a potential treatment for cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia. For more on Forum, encenicline, and CEO Deborah Dunsire’s plans for the company, check out this story from April.

—James McGorry, a 12-year veteran of Genzyme, was named the new CEO of Holliston, MA-based Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology (NASDAQ: HART). HART has been searching for a new CEO since founding executive David Green resigned in April with a statement that “the time was right to bring in a new CEO who has experience in guiding a biotechnology company through clinical trials and product launches.” HART is developing replacement organs that incorporate a patient’s own cells.

—The FDA will give a priority review to Merrimack Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MACK) nanoparticle pancreatic cancer drug, MM-398. It’ll decide whether to approve the drug by Oct. 24.

—Boston-based Tokai Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKAI) kicked off a Phase 3 trial of experimental cancer drug galeterone in a subset of prostate cancer patients whose tumor cells have a specific type of altered, “truncated” androgen receptor. Tokai is targeting these patients because they may not be effectively treated by currently marketed prostate cancer drugs like abiraterone (Zytiga) or enzalutamide (Xtandi). The company expects to report data by the end of next year.

Photo of High Line Park in Manhattan courtesy of David Berkowitz via a Creative Commons license.