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East Coast Biotech Roundup: Emulate, Pulmatrix, Synergy & More

Xconomy New York — 

My West Coast counterpart is crowing this week about an NBA championship for his beloved Golden State Warriors, who ended a 40-year title drought this week by toppling LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Meanwhile, the dry spell continues for my sorry New York Knicks, who last hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy when current president Phil Jackson actually played for the team in 1973 and are better known for handing out bad contracts, bungling trades, and giving away draft picks like candy on Halloween than winning games (see here for what I mean). Indeed, Knick fans tend to have plenty of free time in May and June when the NBA playoffs are underway—good thing there’s biotech to keep me occupied. On to this week’s East Coast headlines!

—The organ-on-a-chip business has a long way to go before the technology really changes drug R&D. But Cambridge, MA-based startup Emulate showed that at least one pharma, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), is willing to embrace the concept. Emulate is applying its organ-mimicking microchips to three of J&J’s preclinical drug programs, with the goal of getting a better read on how these drugs would impact human beings. Emulate president and chief scientific officer Geraldine Hamilton says that more such partnerships are on the way this year—small, yet important steps for one of the companies trying to engender a shift in how drugs are developed.

—After a long and winding road and several strategic pivots, Lexington, MA-based Pulmatrix (NASDAQ: PULM) closed a reverse merger, bagged $10 million in equity financing from its existing backers, and debuted on the Nasdaq this week. I spoke with CEO Robert Clarke about the company’s reinvention—it started out as a biodefense company, and is now a drug delivery specialist—and its decision to go public via reverse merger, rather than IPO.

—Shares of Bedminster, NJ-based Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI) surged some 50 percent this week after it claimed that the FDA has agreed “in written and verbal communications” to change the main goals of an ongoing Phase 3 study for prospective glaucoma drug Rhopressa. While the news doesn’t guarantee success for Aerie, management has said that Rhopressa wouldn’t have failed an earlier Phase 3 study if these types of study goals were in place. Those claims will be put to the test when results from the trial, named “Rocket 2,” are released in the third quarter.

— Shares of New York’s Synergy Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SGYP) nearly doubled after the company posted better-than-expected results from the first of two late-stage trials of plecanatide, a drug it’s developing for chronic idiopathic constipation. Bloomberg has more on the data, which immediately made Synergy the latest target in the buyout rumor mill. Synergy’s drug, should it make it to market, would rival an already-marketed drug from Cambridge-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD) called linaclotide (Linzess).

—Waltham, MA-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals named former AstraZeneca chief medical officer Briggs Morrison its new CEO, and Michael Metzger, onetime Regado Biosciences president and CEO, its new president. Morrison and and Metzger are replacing former leader Arlene Morris—whose name was conspicuously absent from the news release. FierceBiotech first reported news of Morrison’s departure from AstraZeneca last week. Read more here for the immuno-oncology focused strategy that Syndax—which flirted with an IPO last year under Morris—intends to pursue.

—Cambridge-based Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) provided updated results from the first sickle cell disease patient to use its gene therapy, LentiGlobin. Since treatment, that patient has gone three months without needing a blood transfusion, and about 45 percent of the patient’s hemoglobin is now normal, rather than sickle-shaped (based on historical data, getting normal hemoglobin levels up to 30 percent is deemed enough to significantly alter the course of the disease). Bluebird also said two of the beta-thalassemia patients on its therapy have now gone 13 and 16 months, respectively, without an infusion. Check out this report from TheStreet.com for more.

—Separately, Bluebird hired former Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ: SGMO) chief scientific officer and research chief Phillip Gregory as its new CSO.

—Lexington-based Microchips Biotech got $35 million up front from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (NYSE: TEVA) this week as part of a deal between the two to apply Microchips Biotech’s implantable drug delivery technology to Teva’s drugs. The Lexington startup is a spinout from the labs of MIT’s Bob Langer and Michael Cirna.

—Two other local share movers in New York and Boston were TG Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TGTX) and Radius Health (NASDAQ: RDUS). The former’s stock climbed 13 percent after an update to a midstage study of its blood cancer drug ublituximab; the latter’s jumped 15 percent on positive results from an extension of its Phase 3 trial on osteoporosis drug abaloparatide.

—Boston-based PureTech made its England debut this week, raising $171 million in an IPO on the London Stock Exchange, according to Reuters.

—Cranbury, NJ-based Amicus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FOLD) raised some $258.8 million by selling some 19.5 million shares at $13.25 apiece. Amicus is building a commercial infrastructure to prepare to sell Fabry disease drug migalastat (Galafold) should regulators approve the drug later this year.

Photo of Madison Square Garden courtesy of flickr user Rich Mitchell via Creative Commons.