Life Sciences News: Slow-Growing Valuations & Merck/Ariad Drug

Xconomy Boston — 

Funding news, FDA updates, and valuations data made up the New England life sciences news this week.

—Waltham, MA-based Kala Pharmaceuticals is developing drugs with special coatings that break through the body’s thick mucus to treat conditions like cystic fibrosis and ocular disease. It just came out of a two-year-long stealth mode, announcing a $6.2 million funding round from Lux Capital, Polaris Venture Partners, Third Rock Ventures, and Lighthouse Capital Partners.

—Lexington, MA-based Tepha, a developer of absorbable medical device technology, raised $11.3 million in equity financing from 38 investors, an SEC filing revealed.

—Nationally, life sciences valuations grew at a slower pace last year than that of their tech counterparts, according to an analysis by the law firm Fenwick & West. Life sciences companies nabbed financing in the fourth quarter of 2011 at a per-share value that was on average 10 percent higher than their previous funding rounds, a slim increase compared to valuation increases in the same period from other sectors like hardware (43 percent), software (94 percent), and Internet/new media (129 percent).

An FDA advisory panel voted 13 to 1 against approving the cancer drug ridaforolimus (Taltorvic), co-developed by Merck (NYSE: MRK) and Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA). The FDA, set to rule on the drug on June 5, does not have to take the advice of its panels but typically does. The advisory panel meeting was prompted by an FDA staff report questioning whether the relatively modest benefit ridaforolimus offered sarcoma patients justified its potentially toxic side effects.

—My colleague Arlene wrote about Natick, MA-based Karyopharm, which last year nabbed a $1 million grant from the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. CEO Michael Kauffman will also be on hand at an Xconomy biotech event this spring to discuss how his company secured the money.