East Coast Biotech Roundup: Biogen, Watson, Data Dumps & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Guess what? Though this may have been forgotten amidst the biotech boom, drug trials often fail. This week offered a reminder of that, as investors hammered a few Boston-area biotech stocks after disappointing data. The news wasn’t all bad, though. Akebia Therapeutics (NASDAQ: AKBA) surged on some positive mid-stage results. Some deals were made. A new IPO prospect emerged. And most importantly, football season started. All that (except the football stuff) below.

—Cambridge, MA-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) made its first strategic move since disappointing sales of multiple sclerosis pill dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) sank its shares a few months ago. The company paid Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma $60 million to grab all but the Asian rights to a pill the Japanese company has been developing for ulcerative colitis and other autoimmune diseases. The deal puts Biogen in direct competition with Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), which just bought Receptos for $7.2 billion to get access to the exact same type of drug.

—Watertown, MA-based Selecta Biosciences became the latest private biotech to bring crossover investors into a financing round, hauling in $38 million from OrbiMed, Ridgeback Capital Management, and becoming an IPO candidate in the process. Selecta took a long route to get to this point, however—something I spoke about with CEO Werner Cautreels.

—Watson Health opened up its new headquarters in Cambridge, and hired former Philips Healthcare CEO Deborah DiSanzo to run it. The new digs will house over 700 IBM employees. Greg Huang has more on the initiative, and Watson’s plans in Kendall Square.

—Three Boston-area biotechs put out some key data this week, and each felt the wrath—or regard—of Wall Street. Experimental drugs from Flexion Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FLXN) and Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TTPH) each failed trials, sending shares hurtling downwards (for Flexion, 40 percent, and for Tetraphase, 80 percent). Akebia fared better, and was rewarded with a 50 percent bump in share price.

—Cambridge is now home to two messenger RNA companies. This week, Germany’s CureVac opened up a U.S. headquarters in Cambridge with plans to use the new digs to both develop mRNA vaccines and reach out to U.S.-based investors and partners. Cambridge, of course, is already home to another mRNA upstart—Moderna Therapeutics.

—Agilent Technologies (NASDAQ: A) bought Billerica, MA-based startup Seahorse Biosciences for $235 million in cash, just short of five times Seahorse’s $49 million in expected revenue in fiscal 2015. Seahorse was founded in 2001 and makes biomedical instruments that are used to measure cell metabolism and its role in a variety of diseases. Its backers include Commonwealth Capital, Flagship Ventures, Rock Maple Ventures, and LSP BioVentures.

—Lexington, MA-based Agenus (NASDAQ: AGEN) raised $115 million, though not through a stock offering. Rather, it traded rights to royalties tied to sales of two vaccines it helped develop—for shingles and malaria—to a group led by Oberland Capital Management for a $100 million loan. Agenus can also get a $15 million cash payment if the shingles vaccine is approved by June 30, 2018, and can repay the loan on pre-specified terms at any time.

—Our old colleague Luke Timmerman first reported when Cambridge obesity startup Ember Therapeutics was shut down last December. This week Bloomberg did a post-mortem, looking at why things didn’t break right for the Third Rock Ventures-backed startup.

—Cambridge-based Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) is providing up to $3 million in research funding to the Seattle Children’s Research Institute Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies over a three year span. That’ll support efforts by a five-person research team to try to develop potentially curative gene editing treatments for pediatric genetic diseases like severe combined immune deficiency, better known as “bubble boy disease.”

—Boston-based Joslin Diabetes Center said that CEO John Brooks was stepping down this week, and replaced by CFO Eliot Lurier on an interim basis. Joslin didn’t give a reason for the transition, but the Boston Globe reported that Brooks was forced out by Joslin’s board.

—Boston-based Epirus Biopharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: EPRS) bought Netherlands antibody developer Bioceros Holding for $14.1 million in cash and stock payable over the course of a year. Epirus makes biosimilar antibodies; it went public last year when it merged with the shell of Zalicus.

—Parsippany, NJ-based Pacira Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: PCRX) sued the FDA, seeking the right to promote its post-surgical pain treatment, known as Exparel, more broadly. The FDA issued a warning letter to Pacira in September regarding some of its promotional practices for Exparel. Pacira claims that it has sought a dialogue with the agency to allay the FDA’s concerns and “repeatedly was denied.”

Photo courtesy of flickr user Drew McKenzie via Creative Commons.