East Coast Biotech Roundup: ImmusanT, NY Disruptors, Tesaro, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Immuno-oncology fever still rages. Another Third Rock Ventures-backed company looks primed for an IPO. We’ve got those stories and many more in a jam-packed roundup this week:

—People with celiac disease have one option to be symptom-free: steer clear of gluten. But Cambridge, MA-based startup ImmusanT is trying to come up with a vaccine that would enable patients to eat all the bread they want. It’s a key moment for the company and its experimental vaccine, NexVax2. ImmusanT expects to report data from two early-stage trials soon. I spoke with CEO Leslie Williams about the company’s plans, and the challenges ahead.

—Readers that weren’t at the Alexandria Center for Life Science with us last week for “New York’s Life Science Disruptors” missed a treat. Not to worry though, you can get a taste of the event here on the site. On Monday, I recapped the festivities with some of my takeaways, including a lot of insight into the collaborative environment shaping New York biotech. You can also get a slideshow look at the proceedings here.

—Nothing in biotech is hotter than immuno-oncology, and Waltham, MA-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) has become the latest to get in on it. Tesaro cut a deal with San Diego-based antibody developer AnaptysBio to grab the rights to three preclinical programs directed at cancer immunotherapy protein targets PD-1, TIM-3 and LAG-3—all the targets of so-called “checkpoint” inhibitors, which remove a cloaking device tumors use to hide from the immune system. AnaptysBio’s antibodies could be engineered to hit more than one of these targets simultaneously. Tesaro paid AnaptysBio $17 million up front as part of the deal, which could be worth more than $341 million if the antibody candidates hit a slew of development, regulatory, and commercial milestones. Shares of Tesaro soared more than 27 percent on the news.

—Cambridge, MA-based Sage Therapeutics has added another $38 million to its coffers and a new group of backers to its syndicate of investors. OrbiMed Advisors, EcoR1 Capital Management, Foreside Capital Management, and two unnamed “blue chip public investment funds” joined a Series C round for Sage, teaming with existing backers Third Rock Ventures and Arch Venture Partners. Sage is developing a group of drug candidates for specialty central nervous system disorders like status epilepticus, a rare form of epilepsy. The company recently started enrolling patients in its first clinical trial, testing a drug candidate called SAGE-547 in status epilepticus patients.

—Developments in AIDS research are a hot topic of late, and despite difficulties in the past, academics are still trying to come up with a vaccine that can prevent HIV infection—as evidenced by a collaboration between Seattle BioMed and New York’s Rockefeller University this week. Seattle BioMed nabbed a $9.8 million grant from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases to lead a consortium of academics, including Rockefeller, to create two new HIV vaccine candidates. The grant will be spread out over a seven-year period, during which time the investigator group will try to get two potential vaccines ready for a Phase I clinical trial.

—Cambridge, MA-based Cerulean Pharma’s nanoparticle-based cancer drug, CLRX101, flunked its first attempt in a big clinical trial. But Cerulean is now looking to the public markets to bankroll some trials it’s running in other cancer types. Cerulean plans to raise as much as $75 million through an IPO and trade under the ticker symbol “CERU.” Leerink Partners, Canaccord Genuity, JMP Securities, and Wedbush Securities are underwriting the offering. The company has raised more than $80 million in private financing since its inception in 2005.

—New York-based Exosome Diagnostics has raised a $27 million Series B round to prepare to start selling its first fluid-based diagnostic, which is designed to detect prostate cancer from a urine sample. Qiagen and Arcus Ventures led the financing, which also included new investors Tiger Partners (an investment vehicle managed by Julian Robertson), CD Ventures, and Monashee Capital, and existing backers NGN Capital and Forbion Capital Partners. Arcus general partner Steven Soignet joined Exosome’s board of directors as part of the funding. Exosome plans to start selling its prostate cancer diagnostic later this year.

— Lexington, MA-based Inotek Pharmaceuticals started a Phase 2 trial testing its experimental glaucoma drug, trabodenoson, in tandem with latanoprost (Xalatan), the most commonly-prescribed prostaglandin analogue treatment for the disorder. I profiled Inotek, its plans for trabodenoson, and how the company compares with rival glaucoma drug developer Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI), back in September.

—Shares of Basking Ridge, NJ-based Regado Biosciences (NASDAQ: RGDO) climbed more than 38 percent after the FDA designated the company’s anticoagulant therapy, REG1, as a fast track development program, which would speed the agency’s review of the drug. Regado is running a big Phase III trial for REG1, and went public last year to finance the effort.

—New York-based Dipexium Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: DPRX) upsized its IPO to 2.75 million shares from 2.3 million, but then priced its offering at $12, the low end of its projected $12 to $14 per share range. Dipexium, which is developing an antibiotic for diabetic foot ulcers, raised $33 million in gross proceeds through the IPO.