East Coast Biotech Roundup: Unum, RaNA, Maxwell, Biogen, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Over the next few days, it’s all about blood cancer: biotechs will jostle for the limelight at American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting in San Francisco, which kicks off tomorrow morning. But in the meantime, a whole lot of cash was raised by local biotechs this week, including one East Coast company that went public, and another that looks like it’s soon to follow. Those stories and much more below.

—Cambridge, MA-based Unum Therapeutics is one of the latest players in the emerging T-cell therapy world. This it week started a clinical trial of its “antibody-coupled T-cell receptor” technology—through which it specially engineers T cells to find and latch onto antibody therapies, which in turn, bind to tumors. Unum is first trying to use this approach to soup up rituximab (Rituxan), one of the most widely used antibody drugs in biotech history.

—Ronald Renaud is just six months removed from leading Idenix Pharmaceuticals towards its surprising sale to Merck. This week, he moved to his next challenge: heading Cambridge-based RaNA Therapeutics, which is pursuing an entirely new way of developing RNA-based drugs. I spoke with Renaud about the long road ahead for RaNA; the company aims to take early drug candidates into preclinical studies next year.

—Boston-based Maxwell Health raised its biggest round to date, a $26.4 million Series B financing from a group of investors including Adams Street Partners and two former Priceline Group executives. The company, which has created Web-based software individuals can use to manage their benefits and health information, is going to invest that cash in a lot of growth—CEO Veer Gidwaney told me Maxwell aims to add some 30 employees over the next quarter or two alone.

—Cambridge-based Seres Health closed a $48 million Series C round, and while the microbiome drug developer didn’t disclose the names of investors behind the financing, it said they’re “leading public healthcare investors”—typically a sign that an IPO is coming next.

—The checkbook was also out for Newton, MA-based Allena Pharmaceuticals, which locked up a $25 million Series B from HBM Partners, Third Rock Ventures, Frazier Healthcare, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Pharmstandard International. Allena will use the cash to get its prospective treatment for hyperoxaluria—a metabolic condition that can cause kidney stones and even kidney failure—into Phase 3 testing. Allena recently began Phase 2 trials for the drug, ALLN-177, and plans to start some additional mid-stage trials early next year. ALLN-177 is an oral protein drug that breaks down oxalate, a metabolite that builds up in the urine of people with hyperoxaluria.

—Cambridge-based Ninepoint Medical named former NeuroTherm CEO Christopher von Jako its new president and CEO. Jako steps in for Charles Carignan, who recently left the company to lead Bedford, MA-based BiOM in July. Ninepoint sells an optical imaging device called the NvisionLE, which doctors can use to microscopically examine the esophagus during a standard endoscopy procedure.

—Waltham, MA-based regenerative medicine company Histogenics (NASDAQ: HSGX) made its debut on the Nasdaq this week, pricing 5.9 million shares at $11 apiece—far below the $13 to $15 range it aimed to price at. Histogenics expects to have raised about $57.2 million from the IPO after discounts due to underwriters. The company sells NeoCart, a tissue implant that uses a patient’s own cells to grow cartilage outside the body to help repair cartilage lesions in the knee. Sofinnova Venture Partners (14.2 percent) and Wilmslow Estates (13.7 percent) were Histogenics’s most significant stockholders prior to the IPO.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) soared earlier this week after executives said at a conference in Boston that they planned to “aggressively” move a prospective Alzheimer’s drug from Phase 1b trials straight to late-stage testing, according to a report from CNBC. The drug, BIIB037, is an antibody designed to break up amyloid plaques in the brain; a method that’s been tried numerous times, and which has failed so far to lead to an approved drug for the memory-robbing disorder.

—The FDA this week lifted a clinical hold on Burlington, MA-based Flexion Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ: FLXN) lead drug candidate, FX006. Flexion will resume the Phase 2b study for the drug, a long-lasting steroid injection for osteoarthritis, and aims to start a Phase 3 trial for the drug early next year.