East Coast Biotech Roundup: XTuit, Spero, Unum, RNAi Feud & More

Xconomy Boston — 

New startups. New data. Financings. Acquisitions. Legal tussles. FDA advisory panels. It’s been that kind of week in East Coast biotech. So grab some coffee and let’s roll through this week’s headlines.

—This week a new type of cholesterol-lowering drug was in the spotlight, a class of injectable therapies that block the protein known as PCSK9. While FDA advisory panels recommended approval of both New York-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and Sanofi’s ailrocumab (Praluent), and Amgen’s (NASDAQ: AMGN) evolocumab (Repatha), there were some caveats, as Alex Lash reported here.

—After operating stealthily for around four years, Cambridge, MA-based Xtuit Pharmaceuticals emerged with a $22 million Series A round from New Enterprise Associates, Polaris Partners, and several others. The company is zeroing in on the “stroma”—a bunch of different cell types that helps form the structure of organs—and aims to normalize them when they go haywire in cancer and inflammatory liver diseases. I spoke with Polaris partner and CEO Alan Crane about the concept.

—Stony Brook, NY-based Codagenix became the first startup backed by Accelerate Long Island to move on to a Series A investment, grabbing a $2 million round from Long Island VC firm Topspin Partners. Codagenix is using computer algorithms to develop synthetic viruses used to quickly make vaccines; chief operating officer J. Robert Coleman tells Xconomy that the company should kick off its first trial next year.

—Cambridge-based Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO) presented the latest data on its closely watched experimental blood cancer drugs, AG-221 and AG-120, which work by enabling bone marrow cells that would otherwise become cancerous to mature normally. The latest update shows responses from patients with a deadly, aggressive form of blood cancer—acute myeloid leukemia—lasting upwards of 15 months; you can read more about the results at TheStreet.com. Agios also reported data from an early study in healthy volunteers of a third drug, AG-348, for pyruvate kinase deficiency—it’s seen enough positive signs that it’s start testing that drug in a Phase 2 study of PKU patients. Here’s more on Agios and its clinical and regulatory strategy for these drugs.

—Cambridge-based antibiotics startup Spero Therapeutics got a $30 million Series A from Lundbeckfond Ventures, The Kraft Group, Merck Research Ventures, and others to fund its plan to take on drug-resistant bacteria. The strategy for doing so has shifted a bit as Spero has evolved. As CEO Ankit Mahadevia told me, Spero now aims to advance a number of different approaches for treating so-called gram negative infections. One of them Spero recently in-licensed from a small company in Finland.

—Cambridge-based cellular immunotherapy player Unum Therapeutics inked its first partnership, with Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN), and then quickly closed a $65 million Series B round that included a group of “crossover” investors, a sure sign that a company is eyeing an initial public offering. CEO Chuck Wilson told me earlier this week that an IPO is indeed “on the horizon” for Unum, which emerged from stealth just eight months ago.

—Clarus Ventures, a VC firm with offices in Cambridge and the Bay Area, closed a new $500 million fund this week. Managing director Scott Requadt says the new fund will be split 50-50 between traditional venture investments and so-called “R&D risk sharing partnerships,” where a Clarus company helps develop … Next Page »

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