East Coast Biotech Roundup: Forum, Crossovers, Immuno-Oncology & More

Xconomy Boston — 

It was marathon Monday this week in Boston, but East Coast biotech executives were running around all week. There was a big cancer meeting in Philadelphia, a neurology shindig in Washington DC, and a liver conference that just kicked off in Europe. And the usual spate of financings and deals for a bunch of local startups. So grab your water bottle, do some stretching, and let’s get to the headlines.

—Watertown, MA-based Forum Pharmaceuticals has always been a unique biotech story. Forum was the product of a mission, of sorts, by Fidelity Investments and its former CEO Edward “Ned” Johnson III to develop an Alzheimer’s drug, and own the company developing it, despite the prohibitive costs. But as I reported this week, that’s about to change. In part because of a generational shift at the top of Fidelity, CEO Deborah Dunsire is recruiting other venture firms to join Forum’s sole backer—possibly in a private round that may precede an initial public offering.

—Stealthy Lexington, MA-based startup ImmuneXcite had its coming out party at a major medical meeting this week. At the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting it presented a technology that clips a fungal sugar to an antibody to trick the body’s first defenders, neutrophils, into attacking tumors. CEO Yaniv Bejerano told me the startup is trying to raise some cash to get the technology to its first clinical trial, which should begin next year. (For more out of AACR, including data from companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and Novartis, check out this summary from Forbes.)

—Cambridge, MA-based Jounce Therapeutics raised a $56 million Series B round from a group of crossover investors including Wellington Management, Redmile Group, and Foresite Capital Management, to develop what CEO Richard Murray described as a “next step” immuno-oncology strategy—one that, in part, will focus on revving up non-T cell members of the immune system, like macrophages.

—Jounce wasn’t the only biotech to bring crossover backers aboard this week. Gene therapy startup Dimension Therapeutics, also of Cambridge, got a $65 million Series B round from investors like RA Capital Management and Rock Springs Capital to get its first gene therapies into a clinical trial. With a license to gene delivery tools from RegenxBio, Dimension is developing therapies for hemophilia and the rare metabolic disorders ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (OTC) and glycogen storage disease Type 1a (GSD1a). Gene therapy history buffs may remember OTC as the disease Jesse Gelsinger—the Arizona teenager who died in 1999 in a gene therapy trial—had. Incidentally, James Wilson, who co-led that study, is RegenX’s scientific founder, and chairs Dimension’s scientific advisory board.

—Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY) gave the latest data update on its lead RNA interference drug, patisiran. After a year of treatment, the drug looks as if it might help curb the nerve damage associated with a rare disease, familial amyloidotic polyneuropathy. The findings are a boost for the RNAi field, but Alnylam has much more to prove: the trial was a small, single-arm study, not the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial the drug will ultimately have to pass. I spoke with Alnylam president and COO Barry Greene about the data.

—Shares of Bedminster, NJ-based Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI) plummeted 70 percent after the company’s prospective glaucoma drug, Rhopressa, failed the first of three Phase 3 studies. You can read more about Aerie and the other players in the glaucoma space here.

—Norwood, MA-based Corbus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CRBP) got a $5 million award from an affiliate of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help pay for … Next Page »

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