East Coast Biotech Roundup: HART, CoStim, Forest/Actavis, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated, 3:20 pm ET] Local universities, investment firms, and non-profit groups have been increasingly teaming up of late to get basic research off the ground. A couple more such deals were struck this week. Those stories and much more below:

—David Green spent almost two decades leading Holliston, MA-based Harvard Bioscience (NASDAQ: HBIO) before taking on a more ambitious project—the head role at Harvard Apparatus Regenerative Technology (NASDAQ: HART), a Harvard Bio spin-off trying to make replacement organs that incorporate a patient’s own cells. HART’s vision is to make a whole line of engineered organs, like whole hearts or lungs, but before it can get there, it’s got to convince regulators to approve its first stab at regenerative medicine—engineered tracheas. I spoke with Green about his decision to take on the project, and the challenges it’ll take to make it work.

—If any further evidence was needed to prove how hot cancer immunotherapy is these days, Cambridge, MA-based CoStim Pharmaceuticals provided it. Novartis acquired the nascent startup less than a year after CoStim grabbed $10 million in a Series A equity financing led by MPM Capital and Atlas Venture. Novartis didn’t disclose how much it’s paying for CoStim, though Atlas partner Bruce Booth wrote on his blog that the deal gives the startup’s venture backers an “above-top-decile return.” CoStim is developing cancer immunotherapies known as “checkpoint inhibitors,” antibodies that remove a cloaking mechanism that tumors use to hide from immune system attacks.

—Carl Icahn finally got his wish for New York-based Forest Laboratories (NYSE: FRX). Actavis, the acquisitive generics giant formerly known as Watson Pharmaceuticals, agreed to buy up Forest for $25 billion, or $89.48 per share, a 25 percent premium to Forest’s $71.39 closing price on Feb. 14 in a cash and equity deal. Actavis will give Forest shareholders $26.04 in cash and 0.3306 of an Actavis share for each Forest share of common stock. Icahn, of course, had been agitating for change at Forest for several years. The activist investor—who held more than 11 percent of Forest’s stock—had engaged in a couple messy proxy fights with previous CEO Howard Solomon before finally cutting a deal with Forest last year. Shortly thereafter, former Bausch + Lomb CEO Brent Saunders became Forest’s new CEO, and steered the company towards a big buyout. He did the same for Bausch + Lomb less than a year ago.

—Cambridge, MA, and Cincinnati, OH-based Akebia Therapeutics revealed plans to raise as much as $75 million through an IPO. Akebia would use the cash to support a Phase III clinical trial for an oral anemia drug it’s been developing called ALB-6548. Akebia aims to trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “AKBA.” With a 25.1 percent stake, Novartis Bioventures is, by far, Akebia’s largest shareholder.

—Fresh off its IPO, Cambridge-based Eleven Biotherapeutics (NASDAQ: EBIO) kicked off a big Phase III trial for its dry eye disease drug candidate, EBI-005. Eleven plans to enroll 650 patients in the study, and report top-line results in early 2015.

Former Icahn lieutenant Alex Denner has joined the board of Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA). Denner, the chief investment officer and founding partner of Sarissa Capital Mangement, will get a two-year term on Ariad’s board.

—[Updated with new item] Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX) was cleared by the FDA to begin selling its cystic fibrosis treatment ivacaftor (Kalydeco) to patients aged six and older who have one of eight additional mutations in the cystic fibrosis conductance regulator, or CTFR gene. The FDA nod opens up a market to Vertex of another 150 cystic fibrosis patients in the U.S. The drug is already approved in the U.S. and European Union for use in cystic fibrosis patients that have the G551D gating mutation. About 2,000 patients worldwide have that abnormality, so Friday’s FDA approval bumps up the market for Vertex’s drug by 7.5 percent.

—Bloomberg’s Meg Tirrell reported that former J.P. Morgan banker Ilan Ganot has raised $17 million to finance his Boston-based startup biotech, Solid Ventures. Ganot wants to use the cash to acquire a nascent drug candidate for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The goal is to help find a cure for his two-year-old son, Eytani, who has been diagnosed with the crippling disorder, according to the Bloomberg report.

—Bedminster, NJ-based NPS Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: NPSP) began selling its first product, teduglutide (Gattex), in February 2013, and the drug wound up generating $31.8 million in net sales over the rest of the year, $15.8 million of which came during the fourth quarter. The numbers come in at the high end of NPS’ $28 million to $32 million projected range for teduglutide. NPS’ drug is for a rare disease called short bowel syndrome.

—New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College has established the Daedalus Fund for Innovation, an initiative designed to help shepherd basic university research discoveries in life sciences forward, so they don’t run out of money. Weill Cornell didn’t say how much cash is in the fund, but its goal is to boost the number of collaborations the institution has with industry. The Daedalus Fund is open to Weill Cornell scientists, who must submit proposals to an independent advisory committee of biopharmaceutical and venture capitalists. (Weill Cornell hasn’t named who is on the committee aside from pharmacology professor Hazel Szeto.)

—New York-based Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) cut a three-year collaboration deal with MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center to help translate synthetic biology research into potential drug candidates, diagnostics, and other potential products.