Funding Pool Deep for Still River, Cuts in the Offing for Epix and Synta, FDA Approvals Granted for Hologic, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

The past week saw substantial cuts at two of New England’s biotech firms, but a thorough analysis of the financial reporting for most companies in the sector shows the news isn’t all bad. That and more below.

—Luke delivered the second installment of his Biotech Survival Index, which assesses the financial health of more than 40 of Boston’s public life sciences companies. Things were predictably dire for many of them, but compared to the previous quarter more companies were in the enviable position of having over $100 million squirreled away.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) and partner Genentech were unable to show in a clinical trial that their drug rituximab (Rituxan) is effective as a treatment for lupus nephritis, an inflammatory disease of the kidneys. Rituximab is already approved as a treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ryan profiled Aura Biosciences, a startup in Cambridge, MA, that’s out to commercialize drug-delivery technology licensed from European research institutions. Having recently raised over $3 million to fund its efforts, Aura hopes to develop nano-sized particles to ferry cancer drugs directly to tumor cells, say, or to carry RNA-interference-based treatments into the body.

—Epix Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:EPIX) of Lexington, MA, announced plans to reduce its staff by half to cut costs. The layoffs, which will affect 44 workers, combined with a reduction in CEO Elkan Gamzu’s base salary, should save Epix $4.4 million a year.

—Epix’s Lexington neighbor, Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:SNTA), also announced a planned staff reduction. Cutting 90 workers, or about 41 percent of its staff, should allow the firm to operate for two more years without new funding.

—Wade took a look at a collaboration between IBM and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital that could give geographically dispersed teams of doctors a simultaneous view of CT scans, MRIs, and other test results. Called the Radiology Theatre, the system is the first telemedicine application for IBM’s proprietary Web application development platform, Blue Spruce.

The FDA approved two new tests from Bedford, MA-based Hologic (NASDAQ:HOLX), a maker of diagnostics and other devices for women’s healthcare. The tests detect various strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer.

—Lexington, MA-based Pulmatrix reportedly raised $3 million from unnamed investors. Previous backers of the six-year-old firm, which is developing aerosol drugs for treating respiratory diseases and preventing their spread, include 5AM Ventures and Polaris Venture Partners.

—Ryan profiled scientist/serial entrepreneur (and Xconomist) Carmichael Roberts, whose expertise in chemistry and materials science is helping to broaden the focus of North Bridge Venture Partners, which previously emphasized IT-based investments. Roberts also dropped a few hints about his new startup in Waltham, MA, called MC10 (for now), which is out to develop “stretchable silicon” for use in bendable medical implants and electronics.

—Newton, MA-based NKT Therapeutics raised $8 million in a Series A financing led by SV Life Sciences and MedImmune Ventures. NKT is using technology from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital to develop treatments for asthma, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and other ailments.

Still River Systems of Littleton, MA, raised $33 million to help speed the development of its smaller, more affordable version of a proton radiotherapy system for cancer treatment. Venrock Associates and previous investor Caxton Health and Life Sciences led the deal, and CHL Medical Partners participated as well.