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Precision BioSciences, Chimerix, Spreedly, & More NC Innovation News

Xconomy Raleigh-Durham — 

Here are the highlights from a busy week in North Carolina biotech, tech, and cleantech news.

—Precision BioSciences inked a deal with Baxalta (NYSE: BXLT) that pays the Durham biotech company $105 million up front and up to $1.6 billion, plus royalties, if the partnership successfully develops new cancer immunotherapies.

Key to the deal is Precision Bio’s gene-editing platform, Arcus, which the company will use to develop potential new cancer treatments through Phase 2 clinical trials. Baxalta has the exclusive option to take those treatments into late-stage trials, and then commercialization—if they’re approved by the FDA. The Baxalta deal isn’t Precision Bio’s first strategic alliance. But many of the company’s partners, such as Switzerland-based agribusiness giant Syngenta (NYSE: SYT), are in plant science. When Precision Bio raised $25.6 million in a Series A round last spring, CEO Matt Kane told Xconomy that the company would begin developing its own products in human health.

The Precision Bio/Baxalta deal is the latest gene-editing tie-up as big pharmaceutical players try to get their hands on technologies that could open the door to new therapies. For example, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) teamed up with startup CRISPR Therapeutics last fall in a deal to develop new drugs addressing genetic diseases using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system. Kane has said that Arcus has advantages over CRISPR. But if dollars are any indication, the Arcus and CRISPR technologies are valued equally right now. Like Precision Bio, CRISPR Therapeutics got $105 million up front in its deal.

—The stock price of Chimerix (NASDAQ: CMRX) tanked in December following the failure of a Phase 3 clinical trial evaluating the ability of the Durham company’s lead drug to prevent viral infections in patients who had undergone stem cell transplants. The stock price dove again last week, after Chimerix announced it would stop two additional late-stage trials testing the drug in kidney transplant patients. Chimerix executives said that until they get a more complete understanding of the initial Phase 3 failure, the company could not move forward with the other late-stage tests. Chimerix now plans to discuss the failure with the FDA in hopes of trying again in new Phase 2 studies.

—Robert Califf, a cardiologist and former professor at the Duke School of Medicine, was confirmed as the FDA’s new commissioner, succeeding Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg. The Senate’s 89-4 confirmation vote comes a little more than a year after Califf was appointed a deputy commissioner of the FDA, sparking speculation that he was on the short list for the agency’s top post.

—Bioventus reached a deal that gives the Durham-based orthopedics products company U.S. distribution rights to Gelsyn-3, an osteoarthritis treatment for the knee from Swiss pharmaceutical company IBSA. The IBSA treatment consists of three injections of hyaluronic acid, which lubricates and cushions joints to relieve arthritis pain, the company says. No financial terms were disclosed.

—Financial technology startup Spreedly raised $3 million in new funding. The cash came from existing investors, Belgian venture fund Emerge, and new investor Harold Mechelynck, who was the founder of Ogone Payment Services. Durham-based Spreedly has developed a cloud-software platform that enables merchants to securely complete transactions with payment gateways. Spreedly says it handles more than one million transactions each month for more than 300 customers.

— PowerSecure International (NYSE: POWR), a Wake Forest-based company that provides energy management technologies to electric utilities, among other customers, is now set to become part of a utility. Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) announced a definitive agreement to acquire PowerSecure for $431 million in stock. After the acquisition closes, PowerSecure will continue operating from Wake Forest as a Southern subsidiary.

Photo of downtown Durham at sunset courtesy of Flickr user David Mooring under a Creative Commons license.