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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Ribon, Syndax, Aldeyra & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Who will take up the charge of leading New York biotech? That’s an important question going forward in the wake of two recent big losses for the Big Apple’s life sciences scene. Both Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Rockefeller University’s president, and Laurie Glimcher, Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, have agreed to take on new jobs elsewhere. And both have made significant contributions in forging ties between academia and industry, which has helped foster an emerging environment for biotech startups in New York. As such, both leave big shoes to fill going forward. It’ll be interesting to see who steps in to take their place. That story and more below.

—Ribon Therapeutics, a startup formed late last year based on the work of MIT’s Paul Chang and two other scientists, has been quietly putting a team together to develop so-called PARP inhibitor drugs for cancer. Ribon hasn’t made any public announcements as of yet, but regulatory filings and websites yield some insight into its financing efforts, board of directors, executive team, and strategic plan.

—One of Wall Street’s bigger biotech winners this week was a small, 11-employee company from Lexington, MA, called Aldeyra Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ALDX). Shares surged close to 40 percent after the company presented some early data from a trial of its drug for allergic conjunctivitis. But as CEO Todd Brady explained, the data were more significant for other reasons—namely, that they demonstrated the Aldeyra drug’s ability to “trap” toxic aldehyde molecules, which could lead to inflammation-fighting medicines that work beyond the eye.

—A year after withdrawing its first IPO attempt, Waltham, MA-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals finally made it to the public markets. It debuted on the Nasdaq on Thursday morning after raising about $53 million in an initial offering. Syndax had to cut its price to close the deal, but that’s become more common as biotech’s bull run has petered out. Two other Boston-area biotechs that went public this year, Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) and Proteostasis Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PTI), priced either at the low end of, or under, their projected ranges. Syndax, meanwhile, has a different strategy and executive team than it did a year ago.

—South Plainfield, NJ-based PTC Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PTCT) continued to get battered on Wall Street. Days after the FDA declined to even look at an FDA application for its Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug, ataluren (Translarna), regulators in Germany—where ataluren is approved—significantly cut the reimbursed price of the drug, according to a report from TheStreet.com. PTC later revealed more insight into the FDA’s decision, noting in a press release that agency said its two key clinical trials were “negative and do not provide substantial evidence of effectiveness” and that its decision to pool data from those two trials was “post hoc and therefore not supportive” of its case. PTC shares have plummeted 77 percent since Feb. 23, when it first disclosed the FDA’s decision on ataluren.

—Meanwhile, in New York, Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR), of Ardsley, began its tender offer for Biotie Therapies (NASDAQ: BITI), the Helsinki-based company it agreed to acquire in January for $363 million, or $25.60 per share, in cash. Biotie shareholders can begin tendering their shares in mid-March, Acorda said.

—There’s been good news and bad news of late for New York biotech. On the positive side, as Louis Levy and Vicki Sato explain in this op-ed, many factors have come together to position New York biotech as, potentially, the nation’s next big biotech cluster. Some well-funded startups have emerged, and there is a unique mix of strengths in place for New York to capitalize on. Yet the area is now on the verge of losing two of its strongest biotech champions. Just weeks after Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced plans to leave Rockefeller to run Stanford University, Laurie Glimcher agreed to become the next head of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute when her term as Weill Cornell’s Dean ends in December 2018. That’s great news for Boston—Glimcher, a Massachusetts native, will be the famed cancer center’s first female CEO, as STAT explains. But it’ll now be on New York’s institutions to find replacements that can keep the momentum going for the life sciences scene.

—Xconomy is going to take an in-depth look at that scene on March 29, when we bring New York biotech together with some of the area’s top entrepreneurs, leaders, and investors for “New York’s Life Science Disruptors.” You can grab your tickets here.

—On the digital health side of things, the New York City Economic Development Corp. unveiled a new initiative, the “Digital Health Breakthrough Network,” meant to help young healthtech startups more cheaply and efficiently run pilot studies for their products. The program is part of a learning process for the NYCEDC that started with the Pilot Health Tech NYC program in 2013. I spoke with NYCEDC officials about the new initiatives, and how it aims to spur on healthtech startups in the city.

Photo of Weill Cornell courtesy of Brian Tofte-Schumacher via Creative Commons.