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Biotech Roundup: Scangos’s Exit, Zafgen’s Shakeup, Jounce, Relypsa & More

Xconomy National — 

The top news in biotech this week centers around one big job opening: the head seat at Biogen, now that George Scangos has announced plans to leave the company. Who takes the gig, and the strategic direction he or she chooses for Biogen will have implications not just for the company and its employees, but the sector overall.  But there’s plenty more to dig through as well, from a shakeup at Zafgen to a few new high profile startups and a newly public gene therapy company. We’ve got all the details below.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) announced that after a six-year stint, CEO George Scangos will step down in the coming months after a successor is identified. Scangos will leave Biogen in much better shape than when he started, but the CEO transition will come as Biogen is at a crossroads, with a high-risk drug pipeline that could swing the company’s fortunes significantly one way or the other.

—Boston-based Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN) abandoned its lead drug, beloranib—an obesity treatment beset by safety problems—and will instead put its resources behind a follow-on preclinical obesity drug that it believes to be much safer. Xconomy spoke with CEO Tom Hughes about the decision, which is terrible news for patients with the rare disease Prader-Willi Syndrome; Zafgen had hoped to win FDA approval of beloranib in Prader-Willi, which would have made it the first marketed drug for the disease since human growth hormone over a decade ago. Shares of Zafgen fell more than 50 percent on the news.

—Swiss firm Galenica Group agreed to pay $32 a share, or $1.53 billion total, to acquire Relypsa (NASDAQ: RYLP) of Redwood City, CA, and its hyperkalemia drug patiromer (Valtessa). Galenica made the bid—which must be approved by Relypsa shareholders—about two months after the FDA rejected a rival hyperkalemia drug owned by AstraZeneca.

—Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), of Summit, NJ, inked its latest immuno-oncology deal, forming a wide-ranging alliance with Cambridge-based Jounce Therapeutics to develop a group of cancer drugs. It’s the first partnership for Jounce, and a big one: the startup got a $225 million up front cash payment from Celgene and a $36 million equity investment.

—In other deal news, Zimmer Biomet paid $77 million for a majority stake in France-based Medtech as part of a bid to boost its presence in the fast-growing robotic surgery space.

—Three new startups emerged with financing rounds this week. Cambridge-based Fulcrum Therapeutics, led by former Epizyme CEO Robert Gould, got a $55 million Series A from Third Rock Ventures to develop gene control drugs for a variety of diseases, starting with Fragile X Syndrome and a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Also in Cambridge, Oncorus debuted with a $57 million round and a plan to develop next-gen oncolytic viruses, a type of cancer immunotherapy tool. And on the West coast, Palo Alto, CA-based Bioz started up with $3 million in seed cash from 5AM Ventures to help develop software meant to help speed up life sciences research.

—Bruce Bigelow profiled Dauntless Pharmaceuticals, a stealthy biotech company creator in San Diego forming single-drug startups.

—In other financing news: Synthorx, a San Diego synthetic biology startup, got a $10 million investment led by RA Capital Management…The venture arms of Merck and Amgen backed therapeutic video game developer Akili Interactive, bumping its Series B up to $42.4 million…Madison, WI, antibody developer Invenra got $3 million in funding…N-of-One, of Lexington, MA, which helps analyze and interpret genomic cancer tests, raised $7 million from Providence Ventures and Excel Venture Management.

—San Francisco gene therapy startup Audentes Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BOLD) raised $75 million in an IPO, selling 5 million shares at $15 apiece, right in its projected range.

—Shares of Evoke Pharma (NASDAQ: EVOK), of San Diego, meanwhile, plummeted more than 70 percent after its nasal spray form of gastrointestinal drug metoclopramide failed a Phase 3 trial.

Purdue University is raising a new $10 million venture fund to help back the school’s spinout companies, part of an effort to raise its life sciences profile, as Alex Lash reports.

—The FDA rejected Novartis’ attempt to win approval of a biosimilar version of Amgen’s white blood cell booster pegfilgrastim (Neulasta). Meanwhile Amgen and Allergan posted positive results from a Phase 3 trial of their own biosimilar, a copycat version of the breast cancer drug trastuzumab (Herceptin). And in other Amgen news, the Thousand Oaks, CA, company filed for FDA approval of osteoporosis drug romosuzumab.

—An FDA advisory committee voted in favor of Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: VRX) psoriasis drug brodalumab, meaning the drug could win FDA approval by Nov. 16. Valeant splits rights to brodalumab with AstraZeneca after Amgen bailed on a collaboration with AstraZeneca on the drug earlier this year.

—Germany’s Merck KGaA announced plans to put $115 million into a new life sciences campus in Burlington, MA, and replace its current facility in Billerica. Construction should wrap up by the end of next year.

—Aegerion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AEGR) announced another round of job cuts and plans to withdraw its rare disease drug lomitapide (Juxtapid) from Europe. Aegerion will soon merge with Vancouver’s QLT (NASDAQ: QLTI) and change its name to Novelion Therapeutics.