East Coast Biotech Roundup: Biogen, RaNA, Inotek, Disruptors & More

Xconomy Boston — 

This week offered a reminder of how quickly success can come and go in biotech. One of the Boston area’s stalwart biotechs saw its stock land right back where it had been last year before a short-lived boom; another had its coming out party on Wall Street after some good news from the FDA. Those stories and more below.

—Tough week on Wall Street for Cambridge-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), which, as of pre-market trading on Friday, was down about 18 percent since Monday. Shares first dropped after investors digested the latest data from an early study of Biogen’s closely watched Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab—which, while not definitive one way or the other, leaves some big questions to answer as the drug heads into its big Phase 3 test. The stock fell further when Biogen on Friday lowered its financial forecasts, largely because of weaker than expected sales for its oral multiple sclerosis pill dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera). At around $340 a share, Biogen is now right back where it was before executives first telegraphed optimism about aducanumab at a conference in December. All of which had Biogen leadership talking about cost-cutting measures on a conference call on Friday.

—Cambridge-based RaNA Therapeutics raised a $55 million Series B round from a group of crossover investors, becoming the latest Boston area biotech to lay the foundation for an IPO. The funding also provided an example of the importance of relationships in biotech; CEO Ronald Renaud brought aboard The Baupost Group and a venture arm of Merck—a backer, and buyer, respectively, of his former company, Idenix Pharmaceuticals.

—Not to be outdone, another Cambridge biotech, Ra Pharmaceuticals, grabbed a $58.5 million Series B also supported by a group of crossover backers like RA Capital Management, and the venture arms of big biopharmaceutical companies Amgen, Novartis, and Novo Nordisk. Ra is developing a pill for the rare blood disease treated by Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ (NASDAQ: ALXN) antibody drug eculizumab (Soliris), as well as other “peptide-like” molecules, as David Holley reports here.

—This week’s Wall Street winner was Lexington, MA-based Inotek Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ITEK), whose share price almost tripled after the company came to an agreement with the FDA on the design of a Phase 3 program for its prospective glaucoma drug, trabodenoson. Inotek has been trailing rival Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI) in the race to bring a new type of glaucoma drug to market, but Aerie faltered earlier this year, and multiple analysts raised their targets for Inotek’s stock yesterday, feeling that the design of the Phase 3—trabodenoson will be tested against a placebo, and not the old glaucoma drug timolol—lowers its risk of failure.

—This week we announced our latest biotech event, the third iteration of “Boston’s Life Science Disruptors,” a behind-the-scenes look at the long road faced by three Boston-area biotechs pursuing big ideas. This year’s crop features microbiome drug developer Seres Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MCRB), tumor profiling specialist Foundation Medicine (NASDAQ: FMI), and a relatively new startup sitting at the nexus of synthetic biology and the microbiome, Synlogic. You can get your tickets here.

—Another week, another move by a Big Pharma company to expand its presence in Cambridge, as Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) leased 500,000 square feet of space from MIT at 610 Main St. in Kendall Square in a bid to bring all of its research activities in Cambridge under one roof. Some 1,000 Pfizer workers will work at the MIT space once all of Pfizer’s Cambridge-area operations are consolidated.

—New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) hailed the latest success for its cancer immunotherapy drug nivolumab (Opdivo). Bristol halted a Phase 3 study testing the drug in kidney cancer patients early after an independent data committee said nivolumab had already met its goal and helped patients live longer than the drug it was pitted against, everolimus (Afinitor).

—Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) said that the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use has recommended approval of its new PCSK9-blocking, cholesterol-lowering drug, alirocumab (Praluent). A decision regarding European approval is expected in late September; the FDA could approve alirocumab in the U.S. later today, which would make it the first of this new class of cholesterol drugs to hit the market in the states.

—Lexington-based Agenus (NASDAQ: AGEN) agreed to pay up to $44 million in upfront and downstream payments for a group of cancer antibodies developed by Italian biotech Diatheva.

Photo of the Charles River courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism via Creative Commons.