East Coast Biotech Roundup: Harvard’s Haul, Patent Fights, Padlock & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Biotech news on the East Coast runs the gamut this week, from financings to buyouts, a record licensing deal, a new startup, and some high-stakes patent fights. Let’s get right to it.

—Merck (NYSE: MRK) this week paid Harvard University $20 million up front to license a group of potential cancer drugs from the labs of chemical biologist Matthew Shair. The deal represents the largest upfront payment ever from a pharmaceutical licensing deal for Harvard, and a portion of the cash will flow back to the university’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator, which helped develop Shair’s compounds much further than is typical in academia. I spoke with Harvard senior associate provost Isaac Kohlberg and BBA chief scientific officer Curtis Keith about the deal and the accelerator’s role in developing academic projects.

—For the second time since 2012, former Biogen research executive Michael Gilman has steered an Atlas Venture-seeded startup to a buyout. Four years after his old startup Stromedix was bought by Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), Gilman’s latest venture, Padlock Therapeutics of Cambridge, MA, was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb in a deal that could be worth as  much as $600 million. Gilman shared some insights with Xconomy about the deal, which comes less than two years after the company’s formation.

—Fast-growing digital health startup Maxwell Health, which has offices in Boston and New York, got another $22 million in funding this week. Maxwell will use the cash to continue to expand the reach of its Web-based software for buying and managing health insurance plans and other benefits. Jeff Engel has more on Maxwell’s funding and growth plans.

—Merck prevailed over Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) in a suit over patents related to blockbuster hepatitis C drugs sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) and sofosbuvir/ledipasvir (Harvoni). The financial compensation to Merck has yet to be decided, though as Fortune reports here, Merck has argued for 10 percent royalties on U.S. sales of both drugs—they generated over $19 billion combined last year. (Carlsbad, CA-based Ionis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IONS), a co-inventor of the patents in dispute, will get 20 percent of the damages awarded to Merck.)

—Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass also scored a victory against Biogen as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed to start a trial reviewing patents underlying the company’s multiple sclerosis drug dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera). The case should play out over the next year. TheStreet.com has more on this and other recent biotech patent scuffles.

—Another New York biotech startup has come out of the woodwork. This week it was Syntimmune, a startup developing drugs for autoimmune diseases that got $10 million in equity funding led by Baxalta Ventures and Apple Tree Partners. Syntimmune was formed by two biotech veterans—Laurence and Richard Blumberg—who founded Syntonix Pharmaceuticals almost two decades ago and sold it to Biogen in 2007.

—Speaking of new biotechs to emerge, Tarveda Therapeutics formally spun out Placon Therapeutics this week to advance a platinum-based cancer drug known as BTP-114. The drug was originally Tarveda’s lead candidate when it was known as Blend Therapeutics, but the company changed its strategic direction last year and decided to funnel BTP-114 into a new startup. Placon, which doesn’t have a management team installed as of yet, aims to find a partner to move BTP-114 forward.

—Lexington, MA-based Quanterix also raised some cash this week, securing a $46 million Series D round at a post-money valuation of over $200 million. New backers Arch Overage Fund, Cormorant Asset Management, and Trinitas Capital led the round.

—MIT synthetic biology expert Jim Collins was among the scientists this week to receive a $1.5 million award from a new $100 million program funded by Paul Allen called the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. As Alex Lash reports, the initiative, which Allen said encourages “out of the box approaches at the frontiers of knowledge,” will also back some new CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing research on the West Coast and work at Tufts University in Medford, MA, into the structure of complex organs.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Sage Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SAGE) fell more than 12 percent after hedge fund Kerrisdale Capital published a report explaining why the company’s lead drug, SAGE-547, will likely fail its coming Phase 3 trial. Bloomberg has more on the report, which Sage refuted, citing “incorrect factual characterizations, misleading inferences and selective data interpretations,” according to the news service.

—After a rough few weeks in which the FDA refused to even consider approval of its Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug ataluren (Translarna) and the drug’s future in Germany and Canada became more uncertain, PTC Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PTCT) announced it will cut 18 percent of its workforce. The company still intends to work with the FDA to “determine the best path forward” for ataluren in the U.S.