East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Biotech Hubs, Vertex, More

Xconomy Boston — 

Here’s our latest roundup of news from Boston and New York’s life sciences communities.

—Move over, San Francisco. Boston may be ready to take your place as the leading hub for biotech. In his Biobeat column , Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman, who has been covering biotech for 11 years, says that even though San Francisco has dominated the biotech industry since the 1970s, New England has surpassed the Bay area in seed/early stage financing and the number of new startups. Plus, the many Big Pharma labs that have located in Cambridge, MA’s booming Kendall Square are drawing top-notch researchers. “There’s no other place in the world with biotech companies big and small, Big Pharma, world-class biomedical researchers, top clinical collaborators, thousands and thousands of talented employees, and venture capitalists all within walking distance,” writes Luke.

Genocea Biosciences, based in Cambridge, supports Luke’s thesis. The startup is working in the vaccine space, and its leading product would treat Herpes Simplex Virus 2. Genocea just snagged $30 million in a Series C investment from its existing investors and the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The company, which raised its Series A round in February 2009, has now pulled in a grand total of $76 million in financing.

—Still, you can never rule out New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is actively encouraging the development of a biotech industry in the Big Apple with the creation of four incubators for startups offering cut-rate lab and office space, formed through the public-private partnership the NYC Bioscience Initiative. And as panelists at Xconomy’s recent forum Reinventing Biotech’s Business Model for the Big Apple said, not only does New York have the money and  the world class research institutions, it’s simply more fun than San Francisco and Boston.

—Back in Massachusetts, Burlington, MA-based Boston Scientific  (NYSE: BSX) acquired privately-held Rhythmia Medical, in Natick, MA, with an initial payment of $90 million and $175 million  promised through 2017 if certain regulatory and sales milestones are met. The acquisition will expand Boston Scientific’s presence in the fast-growing market for electrophysiology treatments for irregular heartbeats.

—There was encouraging news for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients from Vertex Pharmaceuticals  (NASDAQ: VRTX). The Cambridge-based company reported that the interim data from a clinical trial testing a combination of ivacaftor (Kalydeco), approved in January, and the experimental drug, VX-809, showed that the treatment improved lung function in patients with the most common genetic defect associated with the disease. The combination also appears to be safe. The data supports further study, moving the drugs closer to a possible approval. Ivacaftor is the first drug to reverse some of the damage caused by the lung-destroying disease, but targets a genetic defect found in only 4 percent of CF patients. The combination therapy, if effective, could be used by almost 80 percent of CF sufferers.