East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Dunsire, Good Start, Nimbus, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

It was a busy week of big promise and big moves for biotechs on the East Coast. One biotech added to a string of partnerships and awaits results from a key mid-stage study for one of its own drugs. Another signed its first deal with Big Pharma. And one well-respected life sciences executive abruptly left. Details below:

—Deborah Dunsire was replaced as president of Millennium on Thursday by Anna Protopapas, an executive at parent company Takeda Pharmaceuticals. Dunsire departs after almost eight years at Millennium, where she oversaw the company’s rise to prominence in the cancer treatment field and sold the company to Takeda for $8.8 billion. Dunsire’s exit comes as part of a reorganization of Takeda’s R&D operations, Millennium spokeswoman Manisha Pai told Luke Timmerman.

—Lexington, MA-based Concert Pharmaceuticals formed the latest in what is now a string of drug development partnerships, inking a deal with Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) that could be its largest to date. Through the deal, Celgene will tap into Concert’s technology, which adds deuterium elements into existing drugs to boost their abilities. Concert will get an unspecified payment upfront as Celgene tests out the technology, and stands to receive up to $300 million in development, regulatory, and sales milestones for each drug the two advance as part of the collaboration.

—Cambridge, MA-based NeuroPhage raised another $6.4M to help develop its early-stage drug for Alzheimer’s, NPT002, and advance other potential treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Merieux Developpement led the round, which included participation from all of Neurophage’s investors, including Shire (NASDAQ: SHPG). NeuroPhage’s technology is designed to prevent the buildup of amyloid plaques and to break up existing plaques. It hopes to file an application with the FDA next year to begin clinical trials.

—Cambridge, MA-based Good Start Genetics has raised $28 million in new financing to help continue rolling out GoodStart Select, a screening test for genetic disorders. Capital Royalty has offered Good Start a $28 million loan, bringing the total amount of capital the company has raised since its 2007 inception to $60 million. Good Start CEO Don Hardison told me that the company, which is on pace to generate $25 million in sales this year, will use the cash to help push GoodStart Select into OB/GYN offices and international markets, explore other potential applications such as prenatal and newborn screenings, and expand the number of diseases it can screen for.

—New York-based TG Therapeutics (OTC BB: TGTX) is gearing up for the most pivotal year of its existence as it prepares to present early stage data on its two cancer drugs at annual meetings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June and the American Society of Hematology in December. TG CEO Mike Weiss told me that the company is following the model of Sunnyvale, CA-based Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ: PCYC) and Cambridge, MA-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI), both of which saw their values spike as their cancer drugs enrolled bigger trials and accumulated more data.

—Cambridge, MA-based Nimbus Discovery has inked a partnership with Shire to help tackle rare diseases known as lysosomal storage disorders. Shire will tap into Nimbus’ unorthodox drug discovery approach, which utilizes Schrodinger computer software to perform an efficient, virtual form of “high throughput screening,” a common industry practice to test millions of known compounds. The two will initially focus on one unspecified disease target, and then expand the collaboration if Shire likes what it sees.

—We detailed Cambridge, MA-based Aileron Therapeutics’ efforts to secure the $12 million needed to put ALRN-5281, the first of a new class of drugs called stapled peptides, into a clinical trial in January. Aileron announced on Wednesday that it has completed that early-stage study with good results, reporting no adverse events or tolerability issues among the trial’s 32 patients. Stapled peptides drugs are pieces of proteins that are locked into a specific shape to help them last longer in the bloodstream and penetrate the cell membrane.

—This week’s BioBeat column from Luke followed up on some of the issues raised by Cambridge, MA-based Aveo Oncology (NASDAQ: AVEO) in its recent appearance before an FDA advisory panel. While Aveo clearly made some mistakes, its experience also exposes some serious cracks in the clinical trial system as a whole, and common challenges small biotech companies face in drug development, Luke wrote.