Alnylam Adds Another RNA Approach, Vertex Tackles Hardest Hep C Cases, Zafgen Places Big Bet on Fat Shrinkers, & More Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

New England life sciences firms have been making some fascinating strategic moves recently, and a lot of our coverage this last week was focused on understanding these new strategies.

—Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) made its name with technology for turning genes off with a technique called RNAi, but now the company is also working on tools for turning genes on. The Cambridge, MA, firm’s CEO, John Maraganore, told Luke all about the new technology, called RNAa, and how it fits into Alnylam’s strategy.

—Luke took a closer look at one of the tacks Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) is taking to try to beat big-pharma competitors in the race to develop the next big drug for hepatitis C. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech is aiming to prove that its drug, telaprevir, can help patients for whom other treatments have failed—the hardest cases of all.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and partner firm Elan of Ireland launched a human trial of Tysabri—already approved for multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease—as a cancer treatment.

Ryan interviewed the CEO of Antisoma (LON:ASM) and learned about the British biotech company’s strategy in buying Cambridge, MA, drug developer Xanthus Pharmaceuticals this past spring. Antisoma first walked away from merger talks with the Massachusetts firm in 2007, but now is planning to capitalize on Xanthus’ drug-development and clinical-trial management expertise to try to bring cancer treatments to market.

—Innovative Spinal Technologies, a Mansfield, MA-based maker of, you guessed it, devices for spinal surgery, raised $18 million in a Series C round. Investors were not disclosed.

—Zafgen of Cambridge, MA—a startup aiming to battle the bulge by blocking the formation of blood vessels in fatty tissue—emerged from stealth mode and hired its first permanent CEO. The new head of the startup, which is backed by Atlas Venture and Third Rock Ventures, is the former vice president and global head of cardiovascular and metabolism research at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Tom Hughes.

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