Genzyme Pursues Multiple Sclerosis Market, Biogen Reports Progress in Same, BG Medicine Swallows $40 Million Cash Bolus, & More Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

Lots of news from the bigger players (think Genzyme and Biogen Idec) in the Boston-area life sciences arena last week, plus a peep here and there from the startups.

—Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), a developer of RNAi-based drugs in Cambridge, MA, extended its collaboration with pharma giant Novartis (NYSE: NVS) through October 2009; the deal is worth up to $700 million for Alnylam.

—Allied Minds, a Boston-based investment firm that backs very young companies spun out of academic institutions, helped found a University of Colorado spinoff called Precision Biopsy; the startup is developing “optical” biopsy needles for prostate cancer diagnosis.

—Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme (NASDAQ: GENZ) inked a deal worth up to $437 million in upfront and milestone payments to co-develop and co-market a drug from South Plainfield, NJ-based PTC Therapeutics. The drug is already being tested as a treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and could theoretically be useful against a host of other genetic diseases.

—And speaking of Genzyme, Luke profiled the company’s efforts to capture a big piece of the market for multiple sclerosis drugs—a market that fellow Cambridge firm Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) currently leads.

—Speaking of Biogen’s multiple sclerosis drugs, the company and its partner, Ireland’s Elan, reported that their MS drug Tysabri is being taken by more than 31,800 patients worldwide—and and that they haven’t detected any new cases of PML among the drug’s users. Tysabri was temporarily pulled from the U.S. market several years ago after a few patients on the drug came down with the rare brain infection.

—Speaking of Biogen one more time, a company spokesperson reassured us that if Swiss pharma giant Roche succeeds in its unsolicited bid to acquire South San Francisco-based Genentech (NYSE: DNA) it will not rock the boat for Rituxan, a lymphoma drugs that Biogen currently co-markets in the U.S. with Genentech; Roche, which already markets the drug overseas, will simply become Biogen’s new partner.

—Having abandoned plans to go public back in January, Waltham, MA-based molecular diagnostics firm BG Medicine raised $40 million in a Series D financing. New investors Legg Mason Capital Management, GE Asset Management, and SMALLCAP World Fund joined existing investors Flagship Ventures, Gilde Healthcare Partners, Humana, and Stelios Papadopoulos in the deal.

—Luke had an interesting talk with Tod Woolf, the CEO of Worcester, MA-based RXi Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RXII), which is seeking to turn RNAi science from the likes of Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello and others into treatments for a host of diseases. Luke looked at the unusual path RXi took to the NASDAQ exchange and the firm’s plans for funding its research while the market is down.

—Luke also had an interesting talk with the CEO of Lexington, MA-based Epix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: EPIX). Michael Kauffman gave a preview of data that Epix plans to present at a big Alzheimer’s disease conference in a few days showing that its experimental treatment for the ailment is promising—though not quite as promising as a number-crunching error last year originally led observers to believe.

—Medical needle maker Needletech Products of Attleboro, MA, said it will be acquired for $47.8 million by Buford, GA-based medical device maker Theragenics (NYSE: TGX).

—Cambridge, MA-based Peptimmune completed a second close of its Series D financing worth $8.9 million and plans to use the money to further development of its treatment for multiple sclerosis. The round was led by New Enterprise Associates, MPM Capital, Hunt Ventures, Boston Medical Investors, and Silicon Valley Bank Capital.