East Coast Biotech Roundup: Genzyme, 21st Century Cures, Acorda, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

After a January pilgrimage to sunny San Francisco, biotech execs stormed the Big Apple this week and got a dose of winter reality at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference in New York. Despite the gloomy weather, optimism still reigns in biotech: Market indices, for instance, rallied back during the confab from a rough week last week. We’ve got all the ups and downs—from big deals and financings, to layoffs and patent fights—-below.

—It was a whirlwind day for Sanofi and its Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme unit. First, Genzyme cut a deal worth potentially $845 million with gene therapy startup Voyager Therapeutics. Like other deals Genzyme and its parent have inked with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), the larger company is taking a stake in the smaller one, co-developing a variety of therapies and sharing in their upside, and leaving the little guy independent. Hours after Genzyme announced the Voyager deal, however, FierceBiotech and Bloomberg reported that Sanofi is laying off about 100 workers in North America as part of a corporate reorganization.

—At the BIO CEO & Investor Conference, Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) gave an update about the ambitious bipartisan bill they’re putting together, known as 21st Century Cures. The two aim to have the bill—which, among other things, would include provisions to boost federal support for biomedical research and speed drug development—on President Obama’s desk by the end of the year. The two are still seeking more ideas for what to add to the bill, they told the crowd at BIO.

—Cambridge- and Australia-based Vaxxas raised $20 million to begin the first human clinical study of its needle-free vaccine technology, a skin patch system known as Nanopatch. CEO David Hoey told me the first trial would likely be of a flu vaccine that utilizes the Nanopatch—a vaccine that Vaxxas gains access to from someone else, rather than one it develops on its own.

—In other vaccine-related news, Cambridge startup Affinivax is teaming with the global nonprofit PATH to develop a vaccine for pneumococcus. Affinivax is getting an unspecified amount of funding from PATH as part of the deal. You can read more about Affinivax’s vaccine development approach in this profile I wrote on the startup in October.

—Waltham, MA- and Dublin-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) provided the first Phase 1 data for an oral multiple sclerosis drug its developing called ALKS 8700. Alkermes said the data from the trial—which, in part, pitted ALKS 8700 against Biogen Idec’s dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)—were good enough for it to try to move the drug straight into a pivotal study later this year.

CNBC reported on Thursday that Sarissa Capital Management, the fund run by activist investor Alex Denner, is going to kickstart a proxy fight in the next few weeks to replace Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) CEO Harvey Berger.

—Cambridge-based Aileron Therapeutics started the first human trial of its closely watched stapled peptide cancer drug, ALRN-6924, this week. The drug is meant to protect the tumor suppressor protein known as p53, which gets shut down in some form in every known type of cancer. You can read more about the approach, the significance of p53, and Aileron’s plan for the trial, in this story I wrote back in 2013.

—A couple Boston-area biotech have struggled to price their IPOs: Lexington, MA-based glaucoma drug developer Inotek Pharmaceuticals, and Burlington, MA-based Infraredx, which has a diagnostic device for detecting coronary artery and other vascular diseases. Both were originally scheduled to price their offerings a week ago, but haven’t as of yet.

—Shares of Ardsley, NY-based Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR) fell about 10 percent this week after hedge fund Hayman Capital Management filed a patent challenge known as an inter partes review (IPR)—a relatively new mechanism of fighting patents that was established in 2012—against the company’s flagship drug, dalfampridine (Ampyra). The New York Times has more in this report. (Acorda has said it will fight the IPR).

—Princeton, NJ-based Advaxis (NASDAQ: ADXS) has become the latest to cut a deal to run an immuno-oncology combo trial. It’ll test its prospective cancer immunotherapy ADXS-HPV with Incyte’s (NASDAQ: INCY) epacadostat in a Phase 2 study of 20 patients with human papilloma virus-associated cervical cancer.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Songquan Deng via Creative Commons.