East Coast Biotech Roundup: Vertex, Moderna, Sage, ASCO & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Memorial Day is just around the corner, and in biotech that doesn’t just mean barbecues; it means the year’s big cancer meeting, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual bash in Chicago, is on tap. There’s still some time before the festivities, however, so don’t fire up those grills just yet. We’re looking back at a busy week on the East Coast below. Let’s round it up:

—An FDA advisory panel recommended approval of Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals’s (NASDAQ: VRTX) combination therapy for cystic fibrosis, lumacaftor/ivacaftor (Orkambi), paving the way for potentially billions in sales for Vertex should the agency approve the treatment. While the positive vote was widely expected in the next few months, the recommendation was an important step forward for Vertex as it continues its strategic transformation.

—Moderna Therapeutics is part-biotech, part-startup factory, and this week it formed its third new subsidiary, Elpidera. I spoke to CEO Stephane Bancel about the startup—which will develop messenger RNA therapies for a group of rare diseases—and Moderna’s future startup creation plans.

—The results came back positive from the early study of Cambridge, MA-based Sage Therapeutics’s (NASDAQ: SAGE) epilepsy drug, SAGE-547. Now comes the hard part: a large, randomized, placebo-controlled, Phase 3 trial. I spoke with Sage executives Jeff Jonas and Stephen Kanes about the data, and what to expect in the coming study.

—With two new deals with Sanofi and Genethon, Watertown, MA-based Selecta Biosciences now aims to apply its nanoparticle technology to celiac disease and gene therapy. Selecta could get up to $300 million from Sanofi as part of the celiac deal, and with Genethon, it’ll try to solve a potential issue with the staying power of gene therapy.

—There were two local pieces of IPO news this week. First, PureTech’s weight-loss startup Gelesis postponed its planned offering, which CEO Yishai Zohar told Xconomy the company may consider pricing “as market conditions evolve.” Second, Cambridge-based Catabasis Pharmaceuticals entered the IPO queue, a move that comes after some strategic tinkering to the company’s drug pipeline.

—The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting is just a few weeks away, which means this week marked the time for biotechs to unleash a slew of abstracts—snippets of cancer drug data submitted prior to ASCO. These data aren’t totally up to date with what companies will actually present at ASCO, but nonetheless they’re a feeding frenzy for investors. TheStreet.com rounded up some of the most noteworthy abstracts, which include news items from local pharma giants Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, and East Coast biotechs Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), Karyopharm Therapeutics (NASDAQ: KPTI), and ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN). And here’s the Wall Street Journal on some promising results from an experimental myeloma drug from Bristol and AbbVie.

—The West Coast may be the home of one of the most ambitious new biotech startups in recent memory—South San Francisco-based Denali Therapeutics—but the startup, which just closed a massive $217 million financing round this week to treat a variety of brain diseases, has some roots in New York as well. Rockefeller University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a major presence in New York’s biotech scene, is Denali’s chairman and a co-founder. And in conjunction with his new gig, Tessier-Lavigne has stepped down from Pfizer’s board.

—Cambridge and South San Francisco-based MPM Capital became the latest life sciences VC firm to re-up with a new fund. According to a report from Dow Jones, MPM brought in Novartis and Astellas Pharma to invest in a new $400 million fund.

—Bedford, MA-based Ocular Therapeutix (NASDAQ: OCUL) said that following an FDA meeting, it has decided to seek regulatory approval of an implantable device for post-surgical eye pain known as OTX-DP. Ocular had mixed results so far in its Phase 3 program—one study succeeded, and another failed—but said it plans to run another study in conjunction with filing an FDA application.

—New York-based Talkspace raised a $9.5 million Series A round led by Spark Capital and Softbank. Existing backers Metamorphic Ventures and TheTime also contributed to the round. Via mobile devices and the Web, Talkspace connects people to licensed therapists online to help with stress, anxiety, depression, and other issues.

Photo of Times Square courtesy of flickr user MK Feeney via Creative Commons.