East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Zafgen, Moderna, Merck, More

Xconomy Boston — 

—Obesity is paying off for Cambridge, MA-based Zafgen. On Tuesday the company said it closed on $21 million in a Series D equity funding to support continued development of its obesity drug, beloranib, currently in a Phase IIa clinical trial. New investor Alta Partners joined existing backers Atlas Ventures and Third Rock Ventures in this round.

—-Moderna Therapuetics, a secretive startup in Cambridge, MA, was outed by Xconomy’s Gregory T. Huang on Thursday , when he reported that they’ve raised $40 million to date from Flagship Ventures and private investors. Greg explains that Moderna wants to turn the human body into a drug factory by injecting people with messenger RNA that will prompt cells to produce drug proteins.

—-Flexion Therapeutics of Woburn, MA, is also attracting funds for its experimental treatment for osteoarthritis, a market almost as large as obesity. On Tuesday the company reported that it raised $20 million in a Series B financing led by Novo Ventures, a new investor.

Merck (NYSE: MRK), based in Whitehouse Station, NJ, grabbed headlines with its announcement on Monday that it will start a Phase II/III study of MK-8931, a new type of Alzheimer’s drug that targets an enzyme, beta-secretase, involved in the production of amyloid plaque. The trial moves Merck neck and neck on the development track with a similar drug from Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY). But remember, Alzheimer’s clinical trials have turned up nothing but failures so far, so it is far from a sure thing that either company will succeed.