East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Verdine, Vedanta, Alnylam, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

East Coasters may have been gearing up for their July 4 barbecues this week, but they still managed to pack a ton of life sciences news into three days before they fired up their grills. Details below:

—Harvard University chemical biologist Gregory Verdine has taken a leave of absence from the university to become the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based Warp Drive Bio. Warp Drive is sequencing the genomes of microbes hidden in natural substances such as plants and soil, searching for molecules that can hit currently undruggable disease targets. Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) has already made a firm commitment to acquire the company for more than $1 billion if certain targets tied to a $125 million financing are hit.

—When Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) opened the Boston Innovation Center on June 27, it revealed an investment in Vedanta Biosciences, a Cambridge-based startup backed by PureTech Ventures, along with it. PureTech principal Bernat Olle gave me some details on the company’s progress in harnessing live bacteria to make cocktail treatments for autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases.

—Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals’s (NASDAQ: ALNY) provided an interim look into its mid-stage clinical trial for ALN-TTR02, a drug for a rare disease called thransthyretin (TTR) amyloidosis. The results backed up an earlier study that suggested that ALN-TTR02 reduced the level of patients’ TTR, a disease-causing protein that builds up in the tissue of the body as a result of the condition. Alnylam will unveil the full details of the study at a scientific meeting in November.

—Lexington, MA-based GI Dynamics raised about $52.2 million through a private placement to help fund a key U.S. clinical trial of its intestinal liner for combating Type 2 diabetes and obesity. GI Dynamics is enrolling about 500 patients in 25 sites across the U.S. to test the device, a two-foot long, tube-shaped, flexible liner known as EndoBarrier that blocks a portion of the intestine from absorbing the nutrients and calories in food. GI Dynamics already sells EndoBarrier in several countries outside the U.S.

—Monmouth Junction, NJ-based Insmed (NASDAQ: INSM) may have hit the main goal of the late-stage clinical trial of its drug for lung infections related to cystic fibrosis, but it didn’t look that way to investors—they sent the company’s stock spiraling down close to 20 percent. Insmed tested its antibiotic, liposomal amikacin (Arikace), head to head against Novartis’s (NYSE: NVS) tobramycin inhalation powder (Tobi), and while Insmed said that it hit its goal—non-inferiority compared to the Novartis drug in certain statistical measures—a slide presentation of the data made it clear that liposomal amikacin actually performed a little worse than its counterpart.

—Cambridge-based Epizyme named Jason Rhodes president of the company. Rhodes was previously the epigenetics specialist firm’s executive vice president and CFO (he will maintain the latter role).

—The FDA slapped a clinical hold on New Haven, CT-based Achillion Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: ACHN) hepatitis C drug, sovaprevir, sending the company’s shares down more than 25 percent. Investigators in an early-stage drug-drug interaction study saw toxicity signs—specifically, elevated levels of liver enzymes—in patients in the trial. Achillion promptly halted the trial and notified the FDA, which placed a clinical hold on the drug.

—Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) made a $15 million investment in regenerative medicine company Tengion in a move that gave it the right to first negotiation on the company’s Neo-Kidney Augment product, which is designed to prevent or delay dialysis or kidney transplants in people with chronic kidney disease by improving renal function. Celgene, which invested $5 million in Tengion in 2012, also got warrants for more stock as part of the deal.

—Gregory Weaver, the CFO of Lawrenceville, NJ-based Celsion (NASDAQ: CLSN), resigned after a seven-year stint at the company. He was replaced by former Celsion CFO Jeffrey Church.