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East Coast Biotech Roundup: NY Disruptors, Commense, Regeneron, & More

Xconomy Boston — 

Our East Coast drive started in New York this week, where we took a close look at the state of the city’s biotech ecosystem and the road ahead through the eyes of some of the area’s scientific entrepreneurs and investors. Over in the suburbs, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ partnership with Sanofi continued to pay dividends, with some new data on a drug expected to generate several billions in revenue a year. Up the coast in Boston, there was some good and some bad. A new startup from PureTech Health and new funding rounds for a few other growing companies, but some bad news and restructurings for more established biotechs like Ariad Pharmaceuticals and Forum Pharmaceuticals. Those headlines and more below.

—This week we at Xconomy held our annual New York biotech event, “New York’s Life Science Disruptors,” and this year’s iteration showcased the recent evolution of the city’s biotech scene—specifically, the influx of early-stage investors and new high-profile startups. You can have a look at some of the action, a few of my takeaways, and some thoughts about the progress and looming challenges for New York biotech here.

—Boston-based Emulate raised $28 million in new funding as part of a plan to continue to expand the potential reach of its “organ-on-a-chip” technology. The company just moved into a new headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District, and will grow its ranks from 40 to 85 employees this year. I spoke with Emulate president Geraldine Hamilton about the funding and the path ahead for Emulate.

—Waltham, MA-based Forum Pharmaceuticals said its lead drug, encenicline, failed two late-stage studies in patients with schizophrenia. The news leaves Forum and encenicline in a precarious position. The company said it’ll restructure and “evaluate a potential path forward, if any,” though Forum didn’t specify whether it was referring to encenicline or the company itself. I profiled Forum, an unusual biotech bankrolled almost exclusively by Fidelity for more than a decade, last year.

—Boston’s PureTech Health launched a new startup called Commense that aims to use microbiome-based interventions to help protect newborns born via C-sections from developing certain serious conditions later on. The startup, which has roots at NYU Langone Medical Center’s work into so-called vaginal seeding (here’s more on that in The Scientist), didn’t divulge exactly what types of treatments it aims to develop. However, PureTech’s Daphne Zohar and Aleks Radovic-Moreno told me that “defined products,” such as a microbiome cocktail therapy, are under consideration.

—Meanwhile, PureTech’s other microbiome startup, Vedanta Biosciences, inked a licensing deal with a group of Japanese institutions to expand its reach into cancer and infectious diseases.

—Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and partner Sanofi said that antibody drug dupilumab, a potential treatment for a variety of skin disorders, met its main goals in a Phase 3 trial of patients with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, a condition commonly called eczema. The companies aim to file for FDA approval later this year, and have another phase 3 study ongoing in asthma. Here’s more on the data in Forbes and Reuters.

—In other New York news, check out this Q&A with Acorda Therapeutics CEO Ron Cohen, who chimes in on drug pricing, the IPO and financing climate, and other issues affecting the biotech industry this year.

—Lexington, MA-based ImmuneXcite has hired some experienced biotech veterans and raised $8.6 million to begin a push towards its first clinical trial. The company hired Eric Furfine as chief scientific officer and acting CEO, and John Edwards as its executive chairman—both are former executives of Adnexus, which Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired in 2007. I spoke with them about their plans for ImmuneXcite,  and the questions the technology—a method of tricking immune cells known as neutrophils into battling tumors—has to answer before clinical testing.

—Shares of Cambridge-based Genocea Biosciences (NASDAQ: GNCA) nearly doubled after the company provided the latest update from an open-label mid-stage trial of experimental genital herpes vaccine GEN-003. Genocea said that the data showed lasting effects from the vaccine after 12 months, suggesting a chance for a possible once a year or less dosing regimen. Check out this piece on the data Genocea released after six months of results. I took a detailed look at Genocea’s vaccine platform, and how GEN-003 is supposed to work, back in 2013.

—Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARIA) said it will cut about 90 jobs in the U.S. and Europe as part of an ongoing strategic review.  It’ll provide more details on the progress of that review during the second quarter.

—The disastrous saga of Aveo Oncology’s (NASDAQ: AVEO) tivozanib—a prospective cancer drug that was shredded at an FDA advisory panel in 2013 and rejected by the agency—has now resulted in a fraud charge from the Securities and Exchange Commission to boot. The SEC said Aveo “concealed the FDA’s level of concern” about tivozanib by hiding the fact that the FDA wanted the company to run another trial before filing for approval. Aveo agreed to pay $4 million to settle the charges without admitting or denying any wrongdoing. The SEC’s case continues, however, against former Aveo executives Tuan Ha-Ngoc, David Johnston, and William Slichenmyer.

—Waltham, MA-based Radius Health (NASDAQ: RDUS) submitted an application to approve its osteoporosis drug abaloparatide in the U.S. The drug is already under review in Europe.

—Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson said it shut down a Phase 3 program for osteoarthritis pain drug fulranumab and handed rights to the drug back to partner Amgen, terminating the 2008 licensing deal between the two.

—Waltham-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO) began collaborating with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in a bid to discover and develop small molecule cancer immunotherapy drugs. Tesaro will fund research at MD Anderson, and get commercial rights to any drugs to come from the work.