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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Biogen, Epizyme, Armored CARS, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Biotech continued its active summer on the east coast this week, with everything from licensing deals to acquisitions to IPOs. Here are the highlights, in case you missed them.

—After four years of revamping and rebuilding Biogen’s development pipeline, R&D chief Douglas Williams announced he is leaving the company to take the helm at a new startup cancer biotech, which doesn’t have a name yet. As CEO, Williams is the first employee at the new firm. It’s his second foray into the top leadership position, as we discussed in this profile.

—A week after it locked in a $1 billion deal with Juno Therapeutics, Celgene is back on the deal-making horse: The Summit, NJ-based biotech is paying $10 million upfront and as much as $620 million in milestones to license three drug targets from Epizyme, a Cambridge, MA-based biotech. The targets could potentially inhibit a class of enzymes that can cause cancer.

—Speaking of Juno Therapeutics, the company is partnering with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to run a Phase 1 trial to treat patients with relapsed ovarian cancer. It will be the first test in humans of engineered T cells with added firepower and sophistication, which some call “armored CARs.”

—Funding is everything to a startup biotech company; it’s also everything to one that’s been around for almost two decades. Waltham, MA-based EyeGate Pharmaceuticals announced it is sacrificing the worldwide commercial and manufacturing rights for its uveitis treatment to Valeant Pharmaceuticals in exchange for some cash upfront, as well as milestone and royalty payments. The cash from Valeant may help the company finally get the drug back on track toward regulatory approval, which EyeGate has sought for years.

National Biotech Editor Alex Lash covered the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill aims to speed the development and approval of drugs and devices; provide more financial carrots for making products for small patient populations; and stabilize federal funding for basic biomedical research.

—Sanofi, which owns Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme, has created a program to fund early stage science research at seven academic institutions around the nation, including in Boston, New York, and Texas. We discussed some of the origins of the idea, which includes discoveries at schools in Texas about blocking a protein called PCSK9. Multiple companies, including Sanofi, are now developing cholesterol drugs based on the protein. Ann Arbor, MI-based Esperion Therapeutics, which received positive news about a clinical hold the FDA had previously imposed, is developing a potential competing cholesterol treatment with a different approach.

—Also, take some time to read Alex’s detailed column on San Francisco Bay Area neuroscientist Ted Yednock, who is taking on the desert to rehabilitate a cattle ranch in central Nevada. While the story may be focused on the Western part of our country, it’s quite certainly worth a read.

Newton, MA-based Chiasma is seeking to sell shares in an initial public offering to raise about $75 million. The company intends to develop oral pills for orphan diseases typically treated with injectables. Its lead target is acromegaly, a condition that can lead to death. Andre Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant, suffered from it.

—Charles River Laboratories, the Wilmington, MA-based contract research organization, acquired Celsis International for $212 million. Celsis has a bacterial-infection testing system that is primarily used to ensure the safe manufacturing of drugs and consumer products.