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East Coast Biotech Roundup: PrecisionFDA, Avitide, Foresight & More

Xconomy Boston — 

It’s official: the mid-summer doldrums are here. Biotech news emerged in dribs and drabs on the East Coast this week, and investors gnashed their teeth as the greater indices took a nosedive. Nonetheless, we’ve got all your headlines below, starting with an ambitious government-backed project that could have a big impact on the U.S. healthcare system someday, if things break right. Let’s get right to it.

—Diagnostics startups from the East Coast to the rest of the country could soon be involved in a project that may shape how future tests are designed, developed, and evaluated. The FDA this week unveiled precisionFDA, an open-source, cloud-based tool for researchers and companies across the country to pool and share genomic information. I spoke with FDA chief health informatics officer Taha Kass-Hout about precisionFDA, as well as the Bay Area’s DNAnexus—the startup the FDA has tapped to build it. (For more on the initiative, check out this blog written by Kass-Hout.)

—Lebanon, NH-based Avitide, a startup coming from the Tillman Gerngross biotech family tree, raised a $7.6 million Series C round this week from many of the same investors that have backed Gerngross’s other startups (GlycoFi, Adimab) in the past. CEO Kevin Isett, who got his PhD in Gerngross’ lab at Dartmouth College and previously worked at Adimab, said the cash should help Avitide become profitable in the next one to two years. Avitide has a drug purifying technology meant to help produce complex biologics more efficiently, and hopes to follow in Adimab’s footsteps by becoming a sustainable, profitable, privately held biotech.

—Shire was primarily in the news this week because of its decision to go public with a $30 billion, unsolicited bid for Baxter International’s biotech spin-off, Baxalta. But before that new, Shire shelled out $300 million for a small New York biotech called Foresight Biotherapeutics, which is developing a treatment for pink eye. Though Shire touted Foresight’s drug as a potential treatment for pink eye caused by either a virus or a bacterium, there’s much to be proven, as you can read here.

—Robert Gould announced plans to step down as the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM) after a stint spanning more than five years. Gould and Jason Rhodes (now a partner at Atlas Venture) joined Epizyme together, and helped take it from a venture-backed startup to a publicly traded company, in the process making a concerted decision to remain independent, rather than sell, as they told Xconomy in 2013. Now Rhodes, a former VC at Fidelity Biosciences many years ago, is back in the venture world, and Gould, a former Merck executive and later scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, is set to step down on Sept. 10. He’s being replaced by Robert Bazemore, the former chief operating officer of Synageva Pharmaceuticals.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) exercised an option to license an experimental drug being developed by GlobeImmune (NASDAQ: GBIM) for thyroid cancer.

—Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI), of Bedminster, NJ, and Irvine, CA, cut a research deal with a privately held Baltimore-based drug delivery specialist called GrayBug. Initially, the two will develop a sustained-release form of a small molecule drug Aerie is developing for age-related macular degeneration.

—Cambridge-based Aveo Oncology (NASDAQ: AVEO) licensed rights to cancer drug tivozanib in Russia, the Ukraine, and the Commonwealth of Independent States, to Pharmstandard for $1.5 million up front.

—Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (NYSE: TEVA) bought a majority stake in Cambridge genomic analysis startup and research partner Immuneering for a reported $45 million, according to BioCentury. Teva will get first right of refusal for rights to any drugs for neurological disorders that come out of their partnership.