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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Pfizergan, Zafgen, Codiak, Boston Pharma

Xconomy Boston — 

It’s the time of year for Americans to rack up massive bills on shopping sprees, gorge themselves with calories they don’t need, then worry how they’re going to make it all fit when normal life resumes. We’re talking of course about the just-announced $160 billion Pfizer-Allergan merger, a deal that could have implications for patients and for the companies’ biotech partners across the globe.

There’s yet more to keep you from shopping and cooking this week. Tomorrow, an FDA advisory panel will meet in Washington, DC, to debate what could be the first approved treatment for a crippling genetic disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Last week was no slouch either, with news of two new Boston-area startups, a major T-cell therapy deal, and much more. Let’s take a look at a week’s worth of East Coast biotech headlines and Xconomy stories.

—New York-based Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) reached a $160 billion deal to merge with Allergan (NYSE: AGN), based in Dublin, Ireland, and create the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. Allergan shareholders are getting 11.3 shares in the new company for each share they own, while Pfizer stockholders are getting one share for each of theirs. The new company will be named “Pfizer plc” and be 56 percent owned by Pfizer’s shareholders. Allergan’s stockholders will get the remaining 44 percent. Allergan’s Ireland-based offices will be maintained, a key part of the deal as it will allow Pfizer to lower its corporate tax rate—sure to draw the ire of folks in Washington. After all, AbbVie last year walked away from a buyout of Shire—another potential tax inversion deal—after catching political heat.

—Whether a new drug is approved or not boils down to a key comparison: the proposed benefit of the new therapeutic versus its risk. That comparison will play a big part in determining the future of Cambridge, MA-based Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN) and its obesity drug, beloranib. A month after Zafgen announced a Prader-Willi Syndrome patient died while taking beloranib in one of its trials, the company is pressing on, trying to find out exactly what—if anything—beloranib had to do with the death. I took an in-depth look at the circumstances and the complicated interplay between Zafgen, patients, and researchers as the company tries to sort through it all.

—Ex-Biogen R&D chief Doug Williams resurfaced in a new role this past week. Williams was named president and CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Codiak BioSciences, which launched with a commitment of more than $80 million in venture funding from Arch Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, the venture arm of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, and the Alaska Permanent Fund. I spoke with Williams about the new venture, which aims to use exosomes—tiny bubbles shed by all cells in the body—as drugs and diagnostics. Williams also spoke about Codiak at Xconomy’s Healthcare Summit on Tuesday, the day the company debuted.

—Codiak wasn’t the only well-funded startup to emerge this past week. Boston Pharmaceuticals launched with a $600 million commitment from Gurnet Point Capital, a healthcare investment firm founded by billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli. Boston Pharma’s president is former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who was named the managing partner of Gurnet Point in June. His first investment and board seat, with Pronutria Biosciences, was announced one month ago. Boston Pharmaceuticals plans to have a team of experts buy up drug candidates and develop them, rather than do research in-house. That plan is similar to a number of other past biopharma initiatives, among them Eli Lilly’s Chorus incubator.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) climbed about 28 percent Friday after the FDA released briefing documents with its scientists’ critical view of a rival drug. The documents took issue with drisapersen, a Duchenne drug from Sarepta’s rival BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN), and investors apparently took that as a positive for Sarepta’s drug eteplirsen. An FDA advisory panel will review BioMarin’s drisapersen on Tuesday.

—Servier exercised an option to grab rights to an “off the shelf” cellular immunotherapy called UCART19 being developed by Paris and New York-based Cellectis (NASDAQ: CLLS). Servier now has rights to UCART19 except in the U.S., where Cellectis partner Pfizer holds rights to the preclinical cancer treatment that delivered stunning news earlier this month: By special permission, the treatment was used successfully to treat an infant with leukemia who hadn’t responded to other interventions. Cellectis got $38.2 million up front from Servier in the deal, and could get $300 million in milestone payments down the road.

—Shares of Waltham, MA-based Radius Health (NASDAQ: RDUS) tumbled 11 percent after the company disclosed it won’t file an FDA application for its osteoporosis drug abaloparatide until early next year. Bloomberg has more on the decision, which Radius CEO Robert Ward said was to help with employees’ “overall work-life balance” over the holiday season.

—Cambridge-based Cerulean Pharma (NASDAQ: CERU) cut a deal with AstraZeneca to test its nanoparticle cancer drug CRLX101 in tandem with AstraZeneca’s olaparib (Lynparza) in patients with small cell lung cancer. For more on CRLX101, check out this profile on Cerulean from July.

—Genentech exercised an option to split, with Novartis, the international rights to New York-based Ophthotech’s (NASDAQ: OPHT) potential treatment for age-related macular degeneration, known as Fovista. Ophthotech and Novartis cut a $1 billion partnership deal for Fovista last year.

—Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) won approval in Europe for lumacaftor/ivacaftor (Orkambi), its combination treatment for cystic fibrosis. The FDA approved Orkambi in July.

Photo courtesy of flickr user djLicious via Creative Commons.