East Coast Life Sciences Roundup: Alkermes, Ensemble, Sinai, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

A wave of sweltering heat may have enveloped the I-95 corridor this week, but life sciences companies kept churning out news on the East Coast anyway. Money raises, partnerships, and much more hit the wires the week. We’ve got it all below:

—Cambridge, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) unveiled three new drug programs at its R&D day, expanding a growing portfolio that has helped its market capitalization vault past $4 billion over the past few years. Alkermes is developing a program of small-molecule monomethyl fumarate drugs for multiple sclerosis; a cancer immunotherapy candidate known as RDB 1419; and a non-addictive pain relief product called ALKS 7106. I spoke to Alkermes CEO Richard Pops about the company’s strategy to compete in these large, highly-competitive markets.

—Cambridge-based Ensemble Therapeutics inked its fifth partnership with a large company to date as Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN) agreed to tap into its library of synthetic macrocycles to create drugs targeting certain unspecified ultra-rare diseases. Ensemble is both designing drugs for others and developing its own—it has an oral drug candidate in pre-clinical development targeting interleukin-17, which is implicated in a number of inflammatory diseases.

—Two of New York’s biggest hospital operators, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners, have agreed to merge in a deal that creates the largest network of private hospitals in the city. The deal, which the two expect to complete in the fall, will form what will be known as the Mount Sinai Health System. It will include the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, Beth Israel Brooklyn, the Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, Mount Sinai Queens, the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary, St. Luke’s Hospital, and Roosevelt Hospital.

—Harvard Medical School signed a research and development collaboration with Paris-based Ipsen to engineer recombinant botulinum toxins to treat serious neurologic diseases. Ipsen will fund Harvard’s research into the area for at least three years and get worldwide rights to any drug candidate coming out of the collaboration. Harvard will get certain unspecified upfront and milestone payments and receive royalties on any drugs that make it through clinical trials and win approval from regulators.

—Cambridge-based Dart Therapeutics put its first drug into clinical trials this week, beginning an early-stage study of a candidate known as HT-100, a treatment designed to reduce inflammation associated with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and help patients rebuild weak muscles. Dart, an entity entirely funded by patient foundations, expects to complete the study in the middle of 2014.

—The FDA has given Watertown, MA-based Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: TTPH) lead antibiotic, eravacycline, as a so-called “Qualified Infectious Disease Product.” That means it could get a faster-than-usual ”priority review,” of its new drug application, “fast track” status that enables it to turn in data to the agency as soon as it’s available, and an additional five years of marketing exclusivity should it win FDA approval. The QIDP designation pertains to eravacycline’s development in complicated intra-abdominal and complicated urinary tract infections. Tetraphase plans to begin a pair of Phase III clinical trials later this year testing the antibiotic in patients with these two infections.

—Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck’s (NYSE: MRK) experimental drug for Alzheimer’s Disease took a step forward this week as the pharmaceutical giant said its MK-8931 reduced the levels of amyloid beta found in patients’ cerebral spinal fluid in an early-stage clinical trial. Merck’s drug is one of many beta secretase, or BACE inhibitors in development. The company is currently enrolling 200 patients in its mid-stage study of the drug.

—Monmouth Junction, NJ-based Insmed (NASDAQ: INSM) priced an offering of 6 million shares of common stock at $10.40 apiece, raising about $58 million when taking underwriting discounts, commissions, and other deductions into account. Insmed is using the cash to fund development of its drug for lung infections related to cystic fibrosis, liposomal amikacin (Arikace). Insmed recently revealed the details of a late-stage clinical trial on liposomal amikacin and shareholders weren’t pleased, sending its stock down about 20 percent. Shares have since rebounded, however, and trade at roughly the levels they did prior to the announcement.

—Cambridge-based Verastem (NASDAQ: VSTM) also tapped the public markets for financial assistance, pricing an offering of 3.7 million shares at $15 apiece. Verastem, which is making drugs that target cancer stem cells, expects to raise a total of $51.9 million after deductions when the offering closes.

—Not to be outdone, New York-based TG Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TGTX) caught the capital raise fever as well, announcing plans to price 5.7 million shares of stock at $6.15 apiece and raise $32.5 million after all deductions are accounted for.

—Madison, NJ-based Quest Diagnostics’s (NYSE: DGX) $344 million acquisition of Celera paid off big time on Thursday as the company turned around and sold the rights to royalties tied to the highly-anticipated cancer drug ibrutinib—a revenue stream that had been owned by Celera—to New York-based Royalty Pharma for $485 million.