New Biotechs and Other Tidbits from Mass Biotech Council Pitch Event

Last week I wrote that the current financial crisis would likely flavor the goings on here at today’s Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s (MBC) 10th annual investors forum, and my conversations from biotech executives and the early comments of industry officials on event panels confirmed this repeatedly.

Bob Coughlin, president of the MBC, stressed that “creativity” was a necessity for his members in this current financial climate. “In this economy,” Coughlin said, “traditional approaches to raising money aren’t sufficient—biotechs need to be creative to achieve capital formation.”

How does the MBC chief suggest his members be creative? Well, the first two hours of the conference were dedicated to panels focused on disease foundations investing in biotech companies to develop treatments for their patient members, with panelists from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Here are a few more tidbits of information from this morning:

— I spoke to Kees Been, CEO of EnVivo Pharmaceuticals, to get some additional insights on his Watertown, MA-based biotech firm’s $65 million Series D financing round announced in late October. (Luke covered how Cambridge, MA, venture firm Fidelity Biosciences bought out EnVivo’s previous investors BCM Technologies, Cogene Ventures, and NeuroVentures Capital as part of the deal.) Been told me today that his firm hopes to close a partnership deal soon that, along with the recent infusion of capital by Fidelity, would provide the company with enough cash to operate well into 2010. Fidelity is now the company’s sole investor, Been says.

—Mark Leuchtenberger, chairman of the MBC and CEO of Targanta Therapeutics (NASDAQ:TARG), hasn’t made it to the conference yet today and is attending to company business. Targanta announced late last night that the FDA has advised his firm to conduct additional clinical trials of its lead antibiotic oritavancin and declined to approve the drug. Leutchenberger wasn’t able to make it to his company’s presentation at the investor’s conference this morning, but I was told that two other company employees were there in his place. (I’ll be talking to Leuchtenberger about the future of his company later today.)

Here’s one interesting late entry into the list of biotechs presenting at the conference today—I say late entry because it wasn’t on the list the MBC sent me two weeks ago:

Avaxia Biologics, a biotech startup based in Burlington, MA, says it is developing oral antibody drugs to treat diseases of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. The company says its lead drug is an antibody ointment (or topical treatment in industry parlance) for oral mucositis caused by cancer treatments. The company is aiming, according to its profile in my trusty conference brochure, to advance the lead antibody drug (which hasn’t entered human studies) through mid-stage clinical trials with less than $6 million in capital. That sounds like small amount of money to fund even early clinical trials, so I’ll be following up with Avaxia CEO Barbara Fox to learn how her company plans to do this.

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