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East Coast Bio Roundup: CRISPR, Tessier-Lavigne, Pricing, Spero & More

Xconomy Boston — 

There was biotech news up and down the East Coast this week. In Boston, all eyes were on the first biotech IPO of the year—and the sector let out a collective sigh when things went well. New York, meanwhile, suffered a tough blow to its life sciences scene, as one of its strongest advocates announced plans to head westward. And in the nation’s capital, executives from Turing Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals were blasted by congress at a hearing/political circus on drug pricing. Those stories and more below.

—The gene editing system known as CRISPR-Cas9 made its debut on Wall Street this week when Cambridge, MA-based Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) raised $94 million in an IPO—the first public biotech offering of the year. Editas priced within its expected range, selling 5.9 million shares at $16 apiece, and ended its first trading day up 13.8 percent to $18.20—good news for a sector that needed some. Now comes the hard part: Can Editas turn CRISPR-Cas9 into therapeutics? And will investors be patient enough to wait through the inevitable twists and turns facing a new technology?

—Marc Tessier-Lavigne was named the next president of Stanford University, ending a roughly five-year stint at the helm of New York’s Rockefeller University. Tessier-Lavigne is well familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, having spent years at Genentech and as a professor at both Stanford and UCSF before that. But, as several people told Xconomy, he was also a driving force behind the recent momentum in the New York life sciences ecosystem.

—Annapurna Therapeutics, a gene therapy startup with roots at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, announced a deal to merge with Avalanche Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: AAVL), of Menlo Park, CA. The merger represents a fresh start for Avalanche, which sent its most advanced gene therapy program back into preclinical testing after disappointing results in a mid-stage trial last year. There are some Boston ties here, too. Annapurna CEO Amber Salzman—who will become the combined company’s president and chief operating officer—played an important role in advancing scientific work that helped Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) get where it is today.

—Speaking of Boston, this week we announced our latest life sciences event, “What’s Hot in Boston Biotech,” which will take place at Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) on April 6. The event will feature the likes of Phil Sharp, Deborah Dunsire, Bruce Booth and more. Read more and grab your tickets here.

—Seven months after raising a $30 million Series A round, Cambridge-based Spero Therapeutics added a like-sized Series B to develop antibiotics for tough-to-kill gram-negative bacterial infections. I spoke with CEO Ankit Mahadevia about the financing, and Spero’s continuing plan to scour the globe for potential assets to acquire.

—CNBC’s Meg Tirrell reported that New York-based Kadmon Corp. is once again preparing to file for an IPO. Sam Waksal founded Kadmon in 2010, but will no longer be an officer of the company when it lists, according to Tirrell. For more on Kadmon, check out this piece on the gene therapy group, Kadmon Gene Therapy Holdings, the company spun out last year.

—Boston-based BioDirection raised $4 million to help commercialize a product called Tbit, a blood test meant to diagnose concussions and other brain injuries in less than 90 seconds. David Holley has more on the financing, and the field of players developing methods of either preventing concussions or lessening their impact.

—Martin Shkreli, who’s become the poster boy for the drug pricing controversy hanging over biopharma, was in Washington, D.C. for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s hearing on “developments in the prescription drug market.” And as expected, he invoked the 5th Amendment, and stayed silent—only, in fact, answering a question about the correct pronunciation of his name before he was excused and took to twitter to call the group of congressman “imbeciles.” Forbes has more on the hearing, and the issue the committee convened to debate—drug pricing.

—Abbott Laboratories agreed to pay $56 per share, or $5.8 billion total, to acquire Waltham, MA-based Alere (NYSE: ALR), which has a portfolio of point-of-care diagnostic tests for infections like tuberculosis, the flu, and HIV.  The New York Times has more on the deal here.

—Cambridge, MA-based Mersana Therapeutics expanded its existing alliance with Takeda, which dates back to 2014. The Japanese company paid Mersana $40 million up front to gain non-U.S. rights to its lead drug candidate, XMT-1522, which is meant to be next-gen version of the antibody-drug conjugate breast cancer drug ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) sold by Roche/Genentech. Takeda and Mersana will work on other ADCs as well, and the Japanese company has committed to invest as much as $20 million in future equity funding rounds for Mersana. Mersana will get an additional $20 million once the FDA clears XMT-1522 for its first clinical trial. The deal also includes up to $750 million in potential downstream payments, which Mersana would only receive if it hits a variety of milestones.

—Boston- and San Francisco, CA-based Pear Therapeutics raised $20 million from 5AM Ventures, Arboretum Ventures, Jazz Venture Partners, Bridge Builders Collaborative, and several others to launch a group of combination products the company calls “eFormulations.” (Alex Lash explained in this column last year how these digital therapies are supposed to work.). Pear’s first products, called reset and reset-O,  are for substance abuse disorders.

—New York-based digital health startup accelerator Blueprint Health unveiled the 10 companies that have been accepted into its latest class, its ninth since the program begin. You can read more about those startups in MedCity News.

—Waltham-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) and Merck will run a trial testing ImmunoGen’s prospective ovarian cancer drug, mirvetuximab soravtansine, with Merck’s pembrolizumab (Keytruda). ImmunoGen will begin enrolling patients later this year.

Photo of Rose Kennedy Greenway courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Creative Commons.