East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: J&J, Celgene, Zafgen, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated, 1:39 pm ET] Boston, New York, and New Jersey biotechs were bustling with activity this week, and for a change it had nothing to do with IPOs. We’ve got all the partnerships, clinical trial results, and more below:

— [Updated with new item] Natick, MA-based Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) agreed on Friday to pay $275 million in cash for Bard EP, the electrophysiology (or EP) business of C.R. Bard. The Lowell, MA-based division produces accessories used in EP procedures such as catheters, intracardiac access devices, and EP recording systems. The Bard unit has about 180 employees around the world and brought in $111 million in sales in 2012. The deal marks Boston Scientific’s second nine-figure acquisition in EP in the past year. It agreed to pay as much as $265 million for Rhythmia Medical in October, and for good reason—Boston Scientific believes the $2.5 billion EP market is growing at about 10 percent per year.

—Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) announced the grand opening of its Boston Innovation Center on Thursday, the latest step in a broad initiative by the New Brunswick, NJ-based company to both spur life sciences innovation and find drugs to add to its pipeline. J&J wasted no time making an impact, announcing partnerships with a research canter (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), two local startup biotechs (Rodin Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences), and a non-profit organization (LabCentral). J&J has already opened similar innovation centers in London and Menlo Park, CA, and plans to open another one in Shanghai as well.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) inked a partnership with MorphoSys that gives it worldwide rights to the company’s experimental drug for multiple myeloma and certain types of leukemia, MOR202, in a deal worth potentially as much as $818 million. Celgene will pay MorphoSys $92 million upfront and invest another $60 million in company shares (at a premium of at least 15 percent) for the rights to the drug, with the rest of the deal’s value tied to various milestones. Celgene will pay a majority of the development costs for MOR202, which is in an early-stage clinical trial. MOR202 is an antibody targeting CD38, a protein found on the surface of many white blood cells.

—Burlington, MA-based Flexion Therapeutics’ metamorphosis into an osteoporosis specialist gained steam this week as the company released positive data from a mid-stage clinical trial for FX006, its long-lasting steroid injection for the degenerative joint disorder. FX006 is a sustained-release form of triamcinolone, a steroid that is commonly prescribed to treat pain associated with osteoarthritis. Flexion only presented top-line data from the 228-patient study, but said that its drug worked better, and over a longer period of time, than the immediate-release form of triamcinolone. FX006 is one of three drugs Flexion is developing for osteoarthritis. Flexion in-licensed the other two, FX005 and FX007, from AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN).

—Cambridge, MA-based Eleven Biotherapeutics released top-line data today from an early-stage clinical trial of EBI-005, an experimental drug that fights dry eye disease by blocking two types of interleukin-1 (IL-1) receptors that trigger the pain and inflammation associated with the disorder. Eleven said that the drug was safe and well tolerated in the six-week, 74-patient study, that it significantly improved patients’ disease symptoms, and that it will “rapidly” move EBI-005 straight into a late-stage trial for dry eye and other ocular diseases such as severe allergic conjunctivitis based on the results—which it will detail, in full, at an upcoming ophthalmologic meeting in the fall. Eleven, a Third Rock Ventures and Flagship Ventures creation, recently brought in cash to support its research efforts through a drug development deal with Belgium-based ThromboGenics.

—Cambridge, MA-based Zafgen unveiled interim results from a 12-week, mid-stage study for its obesity drug, beloranib, at the 73rd American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago. Zafgen specifically released the results of 19 women dosed with either beloranib or a placebo over the course of the 160-patient study, and showed that certain patients lost as much as roughly 10 kilograms, or about 22 pounds, during treatment. Beloranib works by changing the way the body metabolizes fat, a completely different method than many of the other obesity drugs, which fool the body into thinking it is full. Zafgen will release the full results of the study towards the end of the summer, according to CEO Tom Hughes.

—Cambridge, MA-based Good Start Genetics can begin selling its diagnostic testing system, GoodStart Select, in New York now that it has received a clinical laboratory permit from the New York State Department of Health. The move was one of the key initiatives Good Start CEO Don Hardison mentioned to me when I chronicled the company’s latest financing round in May. GoodStart Select is a system couples can use to get screened for genetic diseases before they decide to have children. About 25 percent of all carrier testing—screening people’s genes for disease-causing mutations that could be passed along to their children—takes place in New York.

—Queensbury, NY-based Delcath Systems (NASDAQ: DCTH) is slashing 20 percent of its workforce, marking its second round of layoffs in three months, as the company continues to pool cash to try to sell its liver chemotherapy system in Europe. An FDA panel on May 2 voted 16-0 against approving that system in the U.S. Delcath axed 21 percent of its employees a few weeks before the vote.

—Cambridge, MA-based Nimbus Discovery has landed its second partnership in less than two months as Monsanto will tap into the company’s technology to develop agricultural fungicides. Nimbus, a startup backed by Atlas Venture, Bill Gates, and others that discovers drugs with the help of computer software, recently signed a deal with Shire (NASDAQ: SHPG) to develop oral drugs for rare diseases.