East Coast Biotech Roundup: Arno, Accelerate LI, Immunogen, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Abstracts for next month’s annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology began pouring in Thursday, but plenty more happened along the East Coast before investors began combing through those market-moving clinical trial summaries. Those stories below:

—Why are Opko Health (NYSE: OPK) and the founder of private equity firm TPG Capital circling Flemington, NJ-based Arno Therapeutics? Opko recently participated in a $30.7 million financing for the cancer drug developer, and was given the first crack at a potential strategic deal with Arno should the seven-year-old startup decide to pursue one. I spoke with Arno CEO Glenn Mattes about the deal, and the company’s plans to pair a well-studied anti-progestin drug candidate, onapristone, with a companion diagnostic and steer it towards endometrial cancer—a disease type where there isn’t a lot of competition.

—Accelerate Long Island first came together with a plan to use about $1.25 million to start up 10 tech and life sciences companies. Then it realized that most of the startups it was interested in funding were biotechs, which tend to need a lot more money to get going. So Accelerate LI this week joined forces with Long Island, NY’s biggest VC firm, Topspin Partners, to give it the financial muscle to get these projects off the ground. I talked with Accelerate LI executive director Mark Lesko about the partnership, and what the broad non-profit organization plans to do with the newfound access to capital.

—Waltham, MA-based Immunogen’s (NASDAQ: IMGN) efforts to prove it can create a successful drug that combines a targeted antibody with an extra-potent toxin, without the help of a partner, took a big step backward this week. One of Immunogen’s internally-developed drug candidates for small cell lung cancer flopped in a mid-stage study. An independent data monitoring committee found Immunogen’s experimental drug, IMGN901, ineffective, and also saw that patients on treatment had higher rates of infection-related deaths than those getting standard treatments alone. The company responded by halting the clinical trial. Shares of Immunogen promptly fell more than 20 percent.

—Shares of Lexington, MA-based Curis (NASDAQ: CRIS) also took a beating on Wall Street after the FDA slapped a partial clinical hold on its experimental cancer drug, CUDC-427. A sharp increase in liver enzymes was seen in the blood of one of the patients dosed with Curis’ drug during treatment, which can be a sign of serious liver damage. Sometimes those spikes can go away after a patient quits taking the drug, but that didn’t happen in this situation. The patient suffered liver failure about a month afterward and died. Curis can’t resume the study until it gives the FDA more data and analysis on patients dosed with CUDC-427, and proposes a new trial protocol. Curis licensed the drug from South San Francisco-based Genentech last year.

—Natick, MA-based Karyopharm Therapeutics (NASDAQ: KPTI), meanwhile, got a warm welcome from Wall Street, pricing an upsized IPO at $16 per share, the top end of its projected $14 to $16 per share range. Karyopharm sold 6.8 million shares, up from the 5.7 million it initially planned to sell, and raised close to $109 million. Unfortunately for the cancer drug developer, it began trading on a day when the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index dropped more than 2 percent. Shares, which started the day close to $19 apiece, were worth $16.05 when trading concluded on Wednesday.

—Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) announced plans to cut 40 percent of its workforce in the wake of the FDA’s decision to pull its only marketed drug, ponatinib (Iclusig), off the market. Ariad expects to save about $26 million in 2014 by eliminating around 160 positions in the U.S.

—Shares of New York-based Keryx Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: KERX) surged more than 20 percent as the company reported positive top-line results from a mid-stage study testing its drug ferric citrate (Zerenex) in non-dialysis dependent patients with chronic kidney disease. Keryx reported positive results in a Phase III study of ferric citrate in dialysis patients, meaning it now has two potential markets to tap into with its drug. Even so, it’s unclear whether the FDA would deem Keryx’s drug a new chemical entity, which would give it five years of market exclusivity should it win FDA approval: the active ingredient in Zerenex is similar to a drug sold by Otsuka called Ferriseltz. The active ingredient in the Otsuka drug, which is used as a contrast agent in MRI procedures, is ferric ammonium citrate.

—Burlington, MA-based Coronado Biosciences’ (NASDAQ: CNDO) experimental drug for Crohn’s Disease, CNDO-201, failed one mid-stage study in early October. Now its international partner, Germany’s Dr. Falk Pharma, has stopped a second study of CNDO-201 in Europe after similarly ineffective results. The news came a day after Coronado announced plans to ax three of its executives to conserve cash. Coronado’s shares fell more than 12 percent this week.