East Coast Biotech Roundup: Biogen Idec, Third Rock, T2 Bio, Dart

Xconomy Boston — 

Biogen Idec reinforced its dominance in multiple sclerosis this week with the approval of its oral drug for the disease, while Third Rock Ventures amassed half a billion dollars more to foster the life sciences contenders of the future.

Fundraising and new drug candidates made news for Massachusetts biotechnology companies, and New York City kept up efforts to stimulate its health-related business sector.

—Weston, MA-based-Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) won FDA approval Wednesday for its first oral pill for multiple sclerosis, adding a potential $3 billion drug to an MS product line that is already the industry’s largest. The new drug, dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) was approved to treat adults with relapsed forms of multiple sclerosis. It will compete in a market now dominated by injectable drugs, including Biogen’s own interferon beta (Avonex) and natalizumab (Tysabri). Analysts say the new MS drug may have an edge over the first FDA-approved oral MS drug, Novartis’s fingolomid (Gilenya), because side effects have limited fingolomid’s market uptake.

Third Rock Ventures raised $516 million for its third life sciences fund, increasing the total assets under management to about $1.3 billion for the Boston and San Francisco-based firm founded in 2007. Rather than backing later-stage companies for quicker returns like many VC’s, Third Rock founds early stage companies. It started or supported 31 startups with its first two funds, and plans to finance up to 16 young companies from the new $516 million fund, which was oversubscribed. In an interview with Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman, Third Rock co-founder Robert Tepper said the firm turned away some investors’ money to maintain a growth rate that allows partners to continue working closely with portfolio companies.

—Lexington, MA-based T2 Biosystems said Thursday it has raised $40 million from venture investors in a Series E round to support development of its flagship test for the dangerous blood infection called sepsis. The test, T2Candida, can detect infections with the fungal pathogen Candida in whole blood, and identify the microbes by species within three hours, the company says. The quick test allows doctors to choose the right anti-fungal drug for the precise species of Candida that infects each patient, and reduce the 40 percent mortality rate for sepsis caused by the fungus, T2 Bio says. New investor Goldman Sachs led the funding round, which included existing investors Flagship Ventures and Polaris Partners.

—Cambridge, MA-based Dart Therapeutics acquired its second drug candidate for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy this month, and announced Tuesday that it will collaborate with Charlottesville, VA-based Biovista, a pharmaceutical data-mining company, in a search for more compounds that could fight the fatal degenerative disorder. So far, Dart and its affiliate company Halo Therapeutics of Newton, MA have been owned and financed by non-profit patients’ foundations, which have pitched in about $10 million. But as Dart moves toward clinical trials this year for two drugs, the anti-fibrotic HT-100 and Dart’s new candidate, the androgen-stimulating compound DT-200, the company is courting venture firm financing

—Health and personal safety inventions brought a life sciences twist to the “Technology You Can Touch” event held Tuesday at New York University’s Stern School of Business and hosted by NYC Tech Connect, a project supported by the Partnership Fund for New York City. Among the startup projects demonstrated was the lower Manhattan company AdhereTech’s interactive pill bottle, which reminds patients through smartphone messages if they forget to take a dose of medicine. On East 38th Street, Tactile Navigation Tools is developing a tech-enhanced cane for people with limited vision. The CumbaCane’s retractable sailcloth extensions deliver more information about street obstacles and curbs than the traditional white cane, company partner Todd Hudson says.

—-New York City’s high concentration of academic medical research could make it the nation’s hub for biotechnology, according to a study released Tuesday by London-based consulting firm Aon and the Partnership for New York City. But employers can’t find a deep enough pool of technology talent due to steep living costs, national immigration policies, and lifestyle factors such as the preference of “young millennials’’ for campus-like work environments. The study’s authors proposed some solutions, like creating open workplaces with broadband connections in older buildings to lure young tech workers.