East Coast Biotech Roundup: JP Morgan Edition

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated, 9:05 am ET] The biotech world’s official state of the industry lollapalooza—the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco—has come and gone, and taken along with it the sunny weather, the wall to wall investor meetings, the jam-packed presentations, and the late-night cocktail parties (back to the polar vortex for all of us East Coast folks). Xconomy’s National Biotech Editor Luke Timmerman and I will be emptying the notebook over the coming weeks with some of the stories we found around Union Square. But for now, here’s a recap of the biggest headlines while biotech was front and center in San Francisco this week:

—Sanofi’s Genzyme unit plunked down $700 million to snag a 12 percent stake in Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), the Cambridge, MA-based RNA interference drug developer. The two significantly expanded their ties as part of the investment, as Genzyme now has partial rights to a lot more RNAi drug candidates that are being developed from Alnylam’s platform. Alnylam, however, made sure to keep rights to its RNAi drugs in the U.S. and Western Europe, for the most part. Alnlyam’s shares soared more than 40 percent on the news.

—Alnylam also snapped up what’s left of one of the original movers in the RNAi field, Sirna Therapeutics. Merck paid $1.1 billion for Sirna in 2006, but has since exited the RNAi field, opening the door for Alnylam to get ahold of more IP and delivery technology in the RNAi world. Alnylam paid $175 million up front—$150 million in stock, and $25 million in cash—for Sirna. Merck could also get up to $105 million, per product, in milestone payments for each RNAi drug that comes out of Sirna going forward.

—Dublin, Ireland and Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) also kicked off the JPM festivities with a big announcement. It raised $250 million that, as Luke wrote, the company didn’t necessarily need. Alkermes is selling 5.9 million shares at $42.25 apiece through a registered direct offering to a single shareholder—U.K.-based Invesco Perpetual. Alkermes made the move for a number of strategic reasons, like to help fend off takeovers. But it might also use the big cash haul to acquire or in-license assets.

—One of the other big East Coast movers this week was Cambridge-based Moderna Therapeutics. The messenger RNA specialist, which has corralled more than $350 million through various deals over the past year, added another $125 million to its bank account by inking a partnership with Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN). Through the deal, Alexion will get the right to develop and commercialize as many as 10 of Moderna’s mRNA therapies for rare diseases .

The Westin St. Francis, site of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference

The Westin St. Francis, site of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference

—Moderna also started spending some of the dollars it’s been saving up. It took $20 million and used those dollars to spin out a new company called Onkaido Therapeutics, which is starting up with 15 preclinical cancer drug candidates that Moderna had been testing. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s senior vice president of corporate development, is stepping in as CEO of the new venture. Moderna is the sole owner of Onkaido for now, though it will look at bringing more public or private investors in later on, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said.

—Cambridge-based Arteaus Therapeutics was created a few years ago essentially as a vehicle to grab the rights to a migraine drug candidate designed by Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), develop it through a proof-of-concept study (with Lilly’s help), and eventually sell it back if things broke right. This week, they did: Eli Lilly bought the drug—an antibody that targets a brain protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide—from Arteaus after a mid-stage clinical trial it deemed a success. The Indianapolis pharma giant didn’t disclose how much it paid for the drug candidate, but said it would take a 2013 pre-tax charge of about $57.1 million as a result of the deal. Arteaus was formed with the help of an $18 million round from Atlas Venture and OrbiMed Advisors. You can read Atlas partner Bruce Booth’s recap of the Arteaus story, from inception to sale, on Forbes.

—New York-based Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ICPT) quickly became one of the most talked-about biotechs at the conference off of its unexpected mid-stage trial results last week. But the company’s stock price has fluctuated wildly since then as some concerns arose about the effect its drug on patients’ cholesterol levels, and CEO Mark Pruzanski intimated that the company might need to form a partnership to sell the drug, obeticholic acid (assuming it passes through Phase III trials and is approved by regulators).

—Another local biotech lined up an IPO during JP Morgan: Lexington, MA-based Concert Pharmaceuticals. The company, which adds deuterium to existing molecules to boost their abilities, outlined plans to raise up to $74.75 million from public investors through an IPO. Concert plans to trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol “CNCE” if it completes the offering. Just last year, Concert inked a deal with Summit, NJ-based Celgene to make deuterium-boosted cancer and inflammation drugs. It also has partnerships in place with Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Avanir Pharmaceuticals.

[Updated with new item] Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) has begun selling its cancer drug ponatinib (Iclusig) in the U.S. once again, although it will now be prescribed to a smaller patient group than before. The drug was pulled from the market in October due to safety concerns.

—[Updated with new item] Concord, MA-based Alcyone Lifesciences raised $4 million in venture financing in a Series B round led by Edgar D. Jannotta Jr. and Harbor Light Capital Partners. The company is developing a technology designed to help deliver therapeutics directly to the brain.

—Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) revealed this week that it decided not to exercise its option to buy San Francisco-based Adynxx, which is developing a drug candidate for post-operative pain. Cubist paid $20 million for the option to acquire Domain Associates-backed Adynxx in 2011, and would’ve shelled out another $40 million if it had exercised it. But Cubist didn’t like what it saw from a Phase II trial of Adynxx’s experimental drug, AYX1, according to a statement it released: “While AYX1 was well-tolerated in this trial and the observed clinical response may warrant continued exploration, the magnitude of the clinical response did not meet Cubist’s exercise criteria,” Cubist said.

—Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) has teamed up with Patrick Soon-Shiong once again. The big cancer drug maker has paid $75 million to cut a deal with Soon-Shiong’s Los Angeles-based NantBioscience, through which the two will work together to develop nanoparticle albumin-bound cancer drugs. Celgene has licensed two such drug candidates over to NantBioscience as part of the deal, with an eye on potentially buying them back after some early clinical studies. The $75 million consists of an upfront fee and an equity investment, though Celgene didn’t indicate how much each piece is worth. Soon-Shiong, of course, created protein-bound paclitaxel (Abraxane), the jewel of Celgene’s $2.9 billion buyout of Abraxis Biosciences in 2010.

—Cambridge-based Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) provided the latest update to the ongoing small mid-stage clinical trial its running for eteplirsen, its Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy drug, and the numbers continued to hold up. Though Sarepta’s path to regulatory approval still remains unclear, investors sent the company’s shares up 40 percent after the data were released. Sarepta separately named Art Krieg—recently the CEO of RaNA Therapeutics—its new chief scientific officer.

—New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) sold its Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics division to private equity firm Carlyle Group for about $4.15 billion.

—Lexington-based Agenus agreed to acquire privately-held European antibody discovery shop 4-Antibody. Agenus is paying $10 million in stock up front, and potentially another $40 million in either cash or shares tied to certain milestones. The deal is expected to close by the end of February.

—Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and Bayer have cut another deal, this time to co-develop an antibody that would be used in tandem with Regeneron’s aflibercept (Eylea) for patients with age-related macular degeneration. Bayer is paying Regeneron $25.5 million up front and is sharing the costs with the New York company to develop the antibody. Regeneron could also see another $40 million from Bayer if regulators approve the drug.