East Coast Biotech Roundup: LTI, SolveBio, Proteon, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Abstracts from this year’s annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology came out this week, which means it was another week when Big Pharma took center stage. Immuno-oncology drugs from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Merck (NYSE: MRK), Roche/Genentech, and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) (some of which, incidentally, were acquired from biotech in the first place) all grabbed headlines. Still, there were plenty of biotech deals to go around on the East Coast as well. Those stories below.

—Boston-based Lysosomal Therapeutics raised $4.8 million in seed funding this week from Atlas Venture and others, including the venture arms of Eli Lilly (Lilly Ventures), Sanofi (Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures), and Roche (Roche Venture Fund). The new startup, headed by CEO Kees Been (former CEO of EnVivo Therapeutics) and co-founder and biotech heavyweight Henri Termeer, is looking to come up with a treatment for Parkinson’s disease by examining the well-known connection between the debilitating disorder and the rare Gaucher’s disease. Xconomy’s national biotech editor, Alex Lash, spoke with Been and LTI scientific cofounder Dimitri Krainc about the venture.

—The DNA sequencing revolution has created new niches for potential startups all along the genomics food chain. SolveBio, a startup based out of New York, is building an application programming interface to make things easier for the programmers building apps that need to tap into all the disparate databases housing genomic information. SolveBio raised $2 million in cash this week from a group of Silicon Valley and New York-based tech investors, like Andreesen Horowitz and Flatiron Health co-founders Zach Weinberg and Nat Turner. I spoke with CEO Mark Kaganovich about the company’s plans.

—An option-to-buy deal between Waltham, MA-based Proteon Therapeutics and Novartis (NYSE: NVS) fell apart last year, so the company embarked on plan B this week, raising a $45 million Series D in what looks to be a step towards an IPO. New backer Abingworth led the round, and was joined by a couple other new Proteon investors, Deerfield Management, and Pharmstandard International, as well as Proteon’s existing group of backers. Proteon will use the cash largely to run a Phase 3 study for its lead drug PRT-201, which is supposed to better the outcome of a surgical procedure commonly used to prepare kidney failure patients for hemodialysis. I talked with CEO Timothy Noyes about the coming study and the potential for Proteon to go public.

—Boston-based Gelesis raised $12 million this week from founding investor PureTech Ventures, the Pritzker/Vlock Family Office, and some unnamed “senior leaders” in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and finance sectors. Eli Lilly’s former vice president of global external R&D Rob Armstrong has joined up as the company’s chief business officer as well, as the company prepares to provide the first weight-loss data for its obesity pill, Gelesis100. CEO Yishai Zohar said the company will unveil that data at a medical meeting in June. Gelesis100 is a capsule made of little particles that swell up in the stomach, making a person feel full.

—Large pharmaceutical companies have been scurrying to pair their immuno-oncology drugs with as many different cancer immunotherapy prospects as possible to boost their effectiveness. Hampton, NJ-based Celldex Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CLDX) became the latest beneficiary of that strategy this week when it cut a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb to run a trial Celldex’s varlilumab in combination with Bristol-Myers’ nivolumab. The two companies will share the costs of a Phase 1/2 study testing the two drugs in a variety of cancers. Afterwards, should Celldex decide to license out its drug, Bristol-Myers will get an exclusive window to negotiate a deal. Celldex is also getting $5 million up front, and can waive future milestone payments and reduce royalty rates it would’ve owed to Medarex (now a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers). Celldex shares jumped more than 24 percent on the news.

—Waltham, MA-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) announced that its drug for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, rolapitant, hit all of its goals in the third of three Phase 3 clinical trials. The company plans to apply for FDA approval in the middle of the year. Tesaro had been battered by Wall Street in December when rolapitant whiffed on some secondary goals in the earlier two Phase 3 trials, but it gained investors’ support back this week, climbing more than 20 percent on the news.

—For the second time since late 2012, Cambridge, MA-based Radius Health has stepped off of the IPO queue. Citing market conditions, Radius pulled its planned $75 million offering. The company had been looking to raise cash to fund its ongoing Phase 3 study of abaloparatide, an injectable osteoporosis drug that it’s looking to pit against a rival drug sold by Eli Lilly. Radius first tried to go public two years ago, but withdrew that offering in November 2012 because of complications arising from Superstorm Sandy. The company also went through a major shakeup at the executive level late last year.

—Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) made another acquisition this week, paying $415 million in cash for Bayer’s interventional division, which generated about $120 million in sales in 2013, is based in Minneapolis and has about 350 employees. The Bayer division sells products used in peripheral vascular procedures like atherectomies and thrombectomies, among them the Fetch 2 Aspiration Catheter, which helps remove blood clots from blocked arteries and veins. Boston Scientific expects to close the deal in the second half of the year. It’s the second acquisition in two weeks for the company, which just bought Cupertino, CA-based IoGyn.

—New York-based Healthify, one of the startups graduating from health IT accelerator Blueprint Health last year, closed a $500,000 seed round of funding led by a group of angel investors. Healthify has a screening tool that social workers can use to electronically conduct patient surveys. Information from those questionnaires, which are geared towards social issues that affect a patient’s health, is then used to refer that patient to the right place. The company has launched its product in New York and Maryland in conjunction with the financing.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) leaped more than 27 percent this week after the company revealed in its earnings report that it will unveil preliminary data from the Phase 1/2 study of its gene therapy for beta thalassemia at a medical meeting in June—earlier than expected.