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East Coast Biotech Roundup: ASH, Kallyope, SQZ, Kyras & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Boston and New York are known for their sports rivalries, particularly the century-old blood feud between the Yankees and Red Sox. As locals know, for most of that time, Yankees-Red Sox wasn’t much of a rivalry. The mythical “Curse of the Bambino” ensured the Yankees were the hammer, and the Red Sox the nail—until a few days in October 2004 that most Yankee fans would like to forget, when in historic fashion the Red Sox stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to win the American League pennant. Boston has gotten the better of things ever since, winning three titles to New York’s one.

When it comes to biotech ecosystems, the scales are similarly uneven. Boston is the juggernaut, New York the underdog. As with baseball, it’ll take decades for that to change, and for New York to have a chance at a reverse-the-curse moment. For the Red Sox, it was about smart free agent signings, trades, good drafting, and a little luck. For New York biotech, it’s about lab space, institutional teamwork, scrappiness, venture investments in startups, and amassing a pool of seasoned executives to lead companies that grow and succeed in the city. Some of those things came together to form one ambitious New York startup, Kallyope, this week. We’ll see if that starts a trend, as its founders hope. That story and more below.

—The American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting has come and gone, and there’s a good chance that if you were a biotech presenting data at the meeting, your stock didn’t fare so well. Alex Lash and I took a look at some of the market movers, the latest news to come out of the meeting in blood diseases like hemophilia and multiple myeloma, and the state of gene therapy and a form of cellular cancer immunotherapy known as CAR-T.

—Speaking of CAR-T, Swiss cancer drugmaking giant Roche at long last made its first foray into the CAR-T field this week with the help of an unlikely partner—a startup from Boston called SQZ Biotech. The two cut a deal to develop a next-generation type of cell therapy, in which they’ll modify B cells as a way of super-charging a patient’s T cells to fight cancer. I spoke with SQZ and Roche about the deal, which could be worth more than $500 million to the Boston company if things go well.

—Molecular biology pioneer Tom Maniatis gave New York a lift a few years ago when he helped establish the New York Genome Center, the Big Apple’s answer to Boston’s big gene sequencing hub, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. This week, he began an effort to spark New York’s life sciences scene again, joining with two fellow Columbia University professors, Charles Zuker and Richard Axel, to form Kallyope with a $44 million Series A round from Lux Capital, Polaris Partners, The Column Group, Illumina, and others. I spoke with Maniatis, Lux’s Josh Wolfe, and CEO Nancy Thornberry about the effort, which will center around a deep dive into a cellular signaling superhighway known as the gut-brain axis.

—Kallyope wasn’t the only Columbia spinout to launch this past week. Through its Highline Therapeutics incubator, Versant Ventures put $5 million into a new company called Kyras Therapeutics. The company is based on the work of Columbia’s Brent Stockwell, who is using computational methods to develop drugs that directly bind to one of cancer’s hard targets, a family of genes called RAS. Versant also formed a second company, Inception IBD, which Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) has nabbed an option to acquire. Versant’s Carlo Rizzuto and Jerel Davis gave me the details on both efforts.

—The biotech fundings in Boston continued apace, meanwhile. Cambridge, MA-based Constellation Pharmaceuticals raised a $55 million round to fuel a likely push for an IPO. Roche’s Genentech unit passed on an option to buy Constellation in August, at which time CEO Keith Dionne told Xconomy that the company was probably going to put a funding round together to fuel a public offering. Topspin Partners led the new round.

—Also in Cambridge, Flagship Ventures put $25 million into its latest startup, a company called Rubius Therapeutics that aims to transform blood cells into tiny drug delivery pods. Alex Lash has more on the company, which will first use the approach to target the rare disorder phenylketonuria.

—Meanwhile, in Newton, MA, Allena Pharmaceuticals added a $53 million Series C round, becoming another possible Boston-area IPO candidate. New backers Partner Fund Management, Fidelity Management & Research, and Wellington Management joined with Allena’s existing investors to provide the new cash, which will go towards a Phase 3 test of the company’s lead drug for secondary hyperoxaluria. FierceBiotech has more on the round here.

—Fresh off signing the papers for its $160 billion merger with Allergan, New York-based Pfizer inked a deal with BioAlta of San Diego to co-develop a group of antibody drugs for cancer. The deal could be worth more than $1 billion if the BioAlta drugs progress and hit a variety of milestones.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Tom Lianza via Creative Commons.