East Coast Biotech Roundup: Gerngross, Akili, Intercept, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

The (entire) biotech world is preparing to descend on San Francisco next week for the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare bonanza. No surprise, then, that a flood of news hit the wires just before everyone headed to the airport. Those stories, and a few Xconomy specials below, recap a frenzied few days in biotech:

—You may know that Tillman Gerngross is the CEO and co-founder of Lebanon, NH-based Adimab, or even that he steered GlycoFi towards a $400 million sale several years ago. But before all that, Gerngross was a young engineer looking to find his way, one that came to a key crossroads after finding the engineering work he’d done for years to be irrelevant. I spoke with Gerngross at length recently about his rise through the ranks to become the linchpin of a growing biotech network out of New Hampshire. (Separately, Adimab also cut a few more collaboration deals with startups Jounce Therapeutics, Five Prime Therapeutics, and Alector).

—It’s no secret that video games affect your brain. But San Francisco and Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs and New York-based Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) are teaming up to see if they can be used for a whole new purpose—predicting which players might be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Xconomy Deputy Editor Greg Huang reports on the unusual 100-patient trial, which will test if Akili’s technology can be used as a biomarker to test for early signs of the memory-robbing disorder.

—This week’s clear biotech stock winner was New York-based Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ICPT). The company’s shares skyrocketed almost 300 percent after a drug it’s developing for a chronic liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) proved so effective in a mid-stage trial that independent data monitors recommended it be stopped early. Shares of Intercept were worth $281 apiece midday Thursday. They were worth $15 apiece when the company went public in October 2012.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) has formed a number of partnerships over the past few months to get its hands on new technology. The latest of which came this week, when it formed a collaboration with Richmond, CA-based Sangamo Biosciences (NASDAQ: SGMO) to develop a group of drugs that target blood disorders like beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease. Sangamo is getting $20 million in cash up front, with as much as $300 million in potential milestone payments tied to the deal if things break right.

—Burlington, MA-based Flexion Therapeutics joined the biotech IPO parade, outlining plans to raise $86.25 million by selling its shares to public investors. Flexion will use the cash to develop a group of osteoarthritis drugs.

—Just a few months after winning FDA approval for the second iteration of its antibacterial envelope, AigisRx, Monmouth Junction, NJ-based Tyrx was acquired by med tech giant Medtronic (NYSE: MDT). Medtronic is paying $160 million in cash up front, and has tied some unspecified milestones to the deal as well. Tyrx has raised about $50 million since its inception in 1998.

—Cambridge-based Blueprint Medicines landed its second big venture round, raising a $25 million Series B from a group of investors led by Nextech Invest Ltd. to bring its targeted cancer drugs into their first clinical trials. Blueprint raised $40 million in a Series A back in 2011 when it was formed. The company, backed by Third Rock Ventures, Fidelity Biosciences and others, said it expects to begin its first clinical trial next year.

—Cambridge-based Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM) also saw its shares spike this week after the company hit a milestone in its big partnership with Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). Epizyme got a $25 million payment from the big cancer drugmaker after some objective responses were seen in patients taking Epizyme’s experimental leukemia drug EPZ-56756 in an early-stage clinical trial. Shares climbed more than 75 percent on the news.

—Speaking of Celgene, the company’s cancer drug, protein-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane), was approved in Europe to treat patients with pancreatic cancer.

—Cambridge-based Scholar Rock recently came out of stealth mode with a plan to indirectly target growth factors, as I wrote last week. This week, it cut its first deal, inking a research pact with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, a recently-spawned division of Johnson & Johnson that is the parent entity of a group of new innovation centers. The two will work together to develop biologic drugs to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer.

—Johnson & Johnson Innovation also opened up a new innovation center in Israel, and signed early-stage deals with six other biotechs this week, including R.J. Kirk’s Intrexon (NASDAQ: XON).

—Flemington, NJ-based Arno Therapeutics (OTCQB: ARNI) will work with Leica Biosystems to develop a companion diagnostic for the company’s cancer drug candidate, onapristone. I wrote about the company’s plans for onapristone back in November.

—Daniel Ludwig, the founder of the New York-based nonprofit organization Ludwig Cancer Research Cancer, bestowed a $540 million gift to six of the nation’s leading medical institutions: MIT, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago.

—Cambridge-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD) announced plans to chop 10 percent of its workforce as part of a restructuring. The job cuts will take place during the first quarter of 2014.