East Coast Biotech Roundup: Biogen, Civitas, Rhythm, Alkermes, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

To get ready for the annual post-Labor Day market revival, three Boston-area biotechs have put their IPO plans on the front burner. Syndax Pharmaceuticals has come back to the table after postponing its plans earlier this year, while Rhythm Pharmaceuticals and Civitas have declared their intentions for the first time. In pipeline news, Alkermes has filed its FDA application for approval of a schizophrenia drug, and Merck and Pfizer are combining drugs in a Phase 1 cancer trial. Let’s get to the roundup.

—Civitas Therapeutics, a Chelsea, MA-based developer of inhalable drug-delivery tech, had a busy week. The company said it has raised $55 million in Series C funding from new investors Adage Capital Management, OrbiMed Advisors, Partner Fund Management, Rock Springs Capital, and Sofinnova Ventures, plus all of its previous investors, including Alkermes, Bay City Capital, Canaan Partners, and Longitude Capital. Civitas also filed its S-1 paperwork to go public. It could be a quick turnaround for the company, which was spun out of Alkermes in 2011 to make inhalable drugs for Parkinson’s disease.

Rhythm Pharmaceuticals also has joined the lengthy biotech IPO queue. The Boston-based developer of drugs for gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases has filed its registration statement with the SEC and plans to trade on the NASDAQ. Rhythm was founded in 2008 and has raised more than $70 million from investors including MPM Capital, Third Rock Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Pfizer Ventures, and Ipsen. The company is focusing on treating diseases related to diabetes and obesity. Massachusetts has seen at least 14 life sciences IPOs so far this year.

—Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) of Cambridge, MA, has hired Donald Johns to lead its new ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Innovation Hub, the company said Tuesday. Johns came from Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, also in Cambridge, where he ran the pharma company’s neuroscience strategy. Johns will report to Biogen Idec’s chief medical officer Alfred Sandrock.

Alkermes, which is now domiciled in Ireland but has an R&D facility in Waltham, MA, said Monday it has asked the FDA for marketing approval for its schizophrenia drug aripiprazole lauroxil, a long-lasting injectable version of the marketed Abilify that passed its Phase 3 test earlier this year. (Abilify is owned by Otsuka Pharmaceutical.)

—The Boston Business Journal reported Wednesday that biopharma Baxter International (NYSE: BAX) has plans, known as “Project Tiger,” to move its headquarters from suburban Chicago to Cambridge, MA. Baxter refuted the story Thursday.

—Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) of New York, NY, and Merck (NYSE: MRK) of Whitehouse Station, NJ, said Tuesday they will jointly study a combination of Pfizer’s crizotinib (Xalkori) and Merck’s pembrolizumab in a Phase 1b trial for patients with advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer that carries the ALK mutation. The study will begin in 2015. No financial terms were disclosed. Crizotinib is already approved for this form of lung cancer; pembrolizumab is an experimental anti-PD1 immunotherapy that Merck says will be involved in more than 24 clinical trials by the end of 2014.

—Concert Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CNCE) of Lexington, MA, started dosing patients in a Phase 2 clinical trial for a secondary treatment for major depressive disorder, a milestone that lands Concert a $2 million milestone payment under its development and license agreement with Avanir Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AVNR). The experimental treatment, called AVP-786, is a combination of deuterium-modified dextromethorphan and ultra-low dose quinidine. Avanir has worldwide rights to commercialize AVP-786 and other compounds. AVP-786 is one of three partnered compounds that Concert has in clinical trials.

The Wall Street Journal reports that healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) is seeking a buyer for its Bridgewater, NJ-based Cordis division, which makes a wide range of stents and catheters. It could bring in as much as $2 billion, the report said.

—Boston-based OncoPep said Thursday it has reeled in a $6.9 million Series B round of financing to continue development of its Phase 1/2a multiple myeloma drug PVX-410. The biotech’s investors include individual and angel groups, family foundations, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of White Plains, NY, which is contributing $690,000. PVX-410 received orphan drug designation from the FDA in 2013.