East Coast Biotech Roundup: Enanta, NY Disruptors, Repligen, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Perhaps expectedly, it was a slow week for East Coast biotech as many took a deep breath following the JP Morgan madness. But if the crowding IPO queue is any indication, things are about to heat up in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s a roundup of all the local headlines, including some Xconomy specials:

—Survival in biotech often calls for reinvention, and Watertown, MA-based Enanta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ENTA) is no exception. Though the company is best known now as AbbVie’s partner in a big program for hepatitis C treatments, it wasn’t that long ago that Enanta was the owner of a floundering peptide-altering technology that didn’t turn into a viable business. I spoke with president and CEO Jay Luly recently about the key strategic decisions that turned Enanta around, enabling it to survive and ultimately go public in 2013.

—This week we announced our latest East Coast biotech event, which we’re calling “New York’s Life Science Disruptors,” an interactive discussion with some of the key movers in the local biotech scene like Marc Tessier-Lavigne (Rockefeller University), George Golumbeski (Celgene), and Francois Nader (NPS Pharmaceuticals). It’ll take place at the Apella event space at the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences on March 6. You can take advantage of the early bird rate if you grab a ticket before Feb. 6.

—Waltham, MA-based Repligen (NASDAQ: RGEN) continued its overhaul from a drug developer to a bioprocessing company this week, agreeing to sell a group of preclinical histone deacetylase inhibitors, or HDACs, to Novato, CA-based BioMarin (NASDAQ: BMRN). Repligen got just $2 million up front, but could receive another $162 million in milestone payments if those HDACs ever make it through clinical testing and are approved by regulators. Repligen had been developing an HDAC to target Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare, inherited nervous-system disorder. BioMarin aims to continue the effort.

—The Robertson Foundation, formed by former hedge fund manager Julian Robertson, has given New York’s Rockefeller University a $25 million gift to develop drug discovery projects. The gift will allow for the creation of the Robertson Therapeutic Development Fund, which gives Rockefeller the ability to award grants of between $10,000 and $1 million apiece to drug and diagnostic projects it picks out to develop.

—A committee of the European Medicines Agency on Friday shot down South Plainfield, NJ-based PTC Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ: PTCT) request for conditional approval of its Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy drug, ataluren, in Europe. Shares plummeted more than 20 percent in pre-market trading.

—The FDA this week rejected Waltham, MA-based Amag Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: AMAG) attempt to expand the use of its anemia drug ferumoxytol (Feraheme). Amag had been hoping to be able to sell the drug to all patients with iron deficiency anemia that have failed prior treatment with oral iron. It’s currently approved for people with chronic kidney disease. The FDA, however, said that Amag hasn’t provided enough information, and suggested it run another trial. Shares fell about 5 percent following the news.

—Novartis announced that it plans to close its plant in Suffern, NY, which, the Journal News reported, will affect 525 local jobs. Novartis will begin the process in the second quarter, and wrap it up in either 2016 or 2017, according to the report.

—Investors walloped Bedminster, NJ-based Amarin (NASDAQ: AMRN) once again after the FDA rejected the company’s appeal to expand approval of its fish oil pill into patients with mixed dyslipidemia. Shares plummeted another 25 percent following the news.

—Marlborough, MA-based Advanced Cell Technology (OTCBB: ACTC) this week said that CEO Gary Rabin, who has headed the company since 2010, is out “effective immediately.” Advanced Cell didn’t give any reason for Rabin’s sudden departure, only saying that Edward Myles, its current current CFO and executive vice president of corporate development, would step in as president while the company searches for a new full-time CEO. But the Boston Business Journal noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating share sales Rabin made between 2011 and 2013 without officially reporting them.

—Madison, NJ-based Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX) agreed to buy up commercial-lab company Solstas Lab Partners Group from private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe for $570 million.

—Cambridge, MA-based Ironwood Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IRWD) reported its first full year of sales for its first marketed drug, linaclotide (Linzess), and the numbers came in at about $119 million. The drug has generated about $138 million since Ironwood and partner Forest Laboratories began selling it in September 2012. Sales of linaclotide jumped about 48 percent over the last quarter. Shares, in turn, spiked about 15 percent.

—Watertown-based EnVivo Pharmaceuticals began a 26-week Phase III trial for its experimental drug, EVP-6124, in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. I profiled EnVivo, and its new CEO Deborah Dunsire, back in July. Steve Dickman also wrote a guest editorial on the company.