Merck Makes GlycoFi Center of its Biogenerics Strategy, Biogen Says Tysabri Might Promote Remyelination, Stemgent Teams with Fate, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

Xconomy Boston — 

Stem cells and RNAi were the subject of a couple of interesting alliances announced this week. More on those, and the rest of the week’s New England life sciences news, below.

—Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS), a maker of drugs for central nervous system disorders, addiction, and diabetes, signed a lease to move its headquarters from Cambridge, MA, to Waltham, MA. The move, which should be complete in early 2010, is supposed to save the company $8 million a year starting in fiscal 2011.

—Ryan gave an intriguing look inside Lebanon, NH-based GlycoFi nearly three years after its acquisition for $400 million by drug behemoth Merck. Where such transactions often result in the smaller company’s dismantling and absorption into the larger firm, GlycoFi and its yeast-based technology are now the focal point of Merck’s strategy for taking on the market for generic versions of biotech drugs.

—Stemgent of Cambridge, MA, and Fate Therapeutics of San Diego launched the joint “Catalyst” program to offer new developments in stem (iPS) cell technology to large pharmaceutical companies, big biotech firms, and academic labs for a fee. For Stemgent, the program is an extension of its strategy of selling stem cell technologies from leading academic labs to the research market.

—Luke talked to Al Sandrock, senior vice president of neurology R&D at Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB), ahead of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. Biogen planned to highlight its multiple sclerosis products and pipeline at the meeting; yesterday, for instance, it presented a small study indicating that natalizumab (Tysabri) might help the body actually repair damage done by MS to nerves’ myelin coating.

—Cambridge, MA-based Vertex (NASDAQ: VRTX) reported more positive data on its experimental hepatitis C drug, telaprevir, at a scientific meeting in Denmark. If the results hold up in ongoing pivotal trials and Vertex wins regulatory approval for the drug, it could generate $2.6 billion in U.S. sales in 2013, according to one analyst.

—Wade took a peek at a new Somerville, MA-based company called 349Q that’s aiming to use RNA interference technology for water purification, rather than the biomedical applications originally imagined for RNAi. Built around research from the lab of Claudia Gunsch, a Duke University microbial engineering expert, 349Q is still in its infancy. If it pulls off its plans to kill water-borne microbes with RNAi, though, it could one day address what some have described as a trillion-dollar opportunity.

—Waltham, MA-based Avila Therapeutics announced that its experimental treatment for hepatitis C, AVL-181, might be able to wipe out multiple strains of the virus. The drug has only been tested in animals so far, but it could eventually prove to be effective against various drug-resistant and mutated strains of the virus, which afflicts 170 million people worldwide.

—Thermo Fisher Scientific (NYSE:TMO) of Waltham, MA, said it will pay about $120 million for Biolab, an Auckland, New Zealand-based supplier of analytical instruments, lab equipment, and research materials.

—Ryan got the skinny on a new device under development by Lexington, MA-based GI Dynamics aimed at helping overweight people and those with Type 2 diabetes to drop pounds and reduce their blood sugar. The so-called Flow Restrictor, which would work in concert with GI Dynamics’ gut-lining sleeve, the EndoBarrier, is designed to slow the rate at which partially digested food empties from the stomach into the small intestine. Inserted through the mouth in a 20-minute procedure, the devices could provide a less invasive alternative to gastric bypass surgery.

—Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) inked a deal with Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) to get access to Isis’ single-stranded RNA interference technology. Under the terms of the deal, Alnylam will pay up to $31 million to Isis in the form of upfront and milestone-based fees, and royalties on any drugs that may be developed using the technology.