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Merck Goes Generic

MerckMerck (MRK) announced that it will be pursuing a “follow-on biologics” program through its Merck BioVentures Division.  Merck is signaling that it plans to manufacture and sell generic versions of the most popular biotech compounds on the market.  

Merck is expecting it can demonstrate the bioequivalence of its products without having to conduct expensive Phase III trials.  If this turns out to be true, this generic strategy could prove very profitable for Merck.

But at what expense?  It is interesting that Merck, long known for its R&D capabilities, has chosen a path of emulation over discovery.  Is this a signal that pharma’s innovative future is winding down, or is this simply a smart way to capitalize on a unique opportunity?


December 10, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Pharma | , , , | Leave a comment

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (ALNY)

Alnylam PharmaceuticalsCore Competency: RNAi interference

Alliances: Novartis, Roche, Takeda

News: Purchased 116 pieces of IP from Nucleonics (Dec. 8, 2008)  Looks like Alnylam is making a move to cluster and consolidate its presence in the RNAi space in terms of IP positioning.

RNAi platforms seem to be all the rage right now, so such a move seems a strong strategic advance for the Cambridge, MA company.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Companies | , , , , , | Leave a comment

So, VC’s Broke… Can We Fix It?

There was a terrific interview with Alan Frazier (from Frazier Healthcare Ventures) posted on Xconomy’s site.  I encourage everyone to check it out.  

Here’s the major passage I took away (quoting Mr. Frazier):

We are investing a little more than half in biotech, and the balance in medical devices. We are, for sure, doing less startups and more later-stage companies. We do a lot of new companies, still, probably one-fourth of our companies are new companies. But a lot of them are like Calistoga where it starts out with a product pretty much ready to go, where we pull it from someone else and try it in a new indication.

So, it seems to me like there is a new equation for VC that looks a lot more like private equity.  In other words, VC’s will be looking for enterprises in the future that are closer to positive cash flow, and they will be looking for companies that will make attractive acquisition targets (as opposed to potential IPOs).

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Deals, Med Tech, Pharma | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seattle Genetics

Seattle GeneticsSGN-35.  Targeted antibody that identifies CD-30 and dumps a lethal dose of chemotherapy into tumor cells.

December 6, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Companies | , , , , | Leave a comment

Genentech Purchase?

The proposed deal that would involve Roche’s (RHHBY) outright purchase of Genentech (DNA) may not go through.  The rumored bid of $43.7B for the remaining 44% of Genentech that Roche does not presently own would require a $45B loan, which appears to be hung up at the moment.  

The lending squeeze is apparently the culprit, as reported by Reuters.  The deal itself makes sense, but the magnitude of the required loan is just not feasible in the present economic climate.

Nonetheless, the Genentech buyout remains on the table. Read this article over at Pharmalot for further analysis on the matter.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Deals, Pharma | , , , | Leave a comment

All Just a Memory

Roche Pharmaceuticals (RHHBY) announced a $50M acquisition purchase of Memory Pharmaceuticals, a small-cap biotech developing CNS compounds that had an existing partnership with Roche.

Memory has developed a class of nicotinic alpha-7 agonists, which are in Phase II trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.  The drugs treat the cognitive dysfunction of these CNS disorders through their interaction with nicotinic receptors in the brain.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Deals, Pharma | , , , , | Leave a comment

Christoph Westphal: Sirtris, CEO


Christoph WestphalChristoph Westphal, M.D., Ph.D., co-founded Sirtris in 2004 and has since served as Chief Executive Officer.  Under his leadership, Sirtris has become a recognized pioneer in the research and development of small molecule drugs that target the sirtuins, a family of enzymes that control the aging process.

In 2007, Dr. Westphal successfully led the company through its initial public offering, resulting in recognition by the Boston Globe as one of the Globe 100 top IPOs of 2007.  In June 2008, GSK acquired Sirtris for $720 million, and Dr. Westphal continues to lead Sirtris as an independent discovery performance unit within GSK.

Prior to establishing Sirtris, Dr. Westphal co-founded Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: ALNY), Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: MNTA) and Acceleron as CEO.  Dr. Westphal was formerly a general partner at a venture fund and a consultant with McKinsey.  He earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University.  He graduated with a B.A. summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University.

Dr. Westphal currently serves on the Board of Directors for Alnara Pharmaceuticals, Concert Pharmaceuticals and Magen BioSciences, and he serves on the Board of Fellows of Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Westphal has been the lead or senior author on several patent applications and scientific papers in journals including CellNature and Nature Genetics.

Dr. Westphal has received a number of industry awards, including the 2008 Outstanding Individual of the Year Award at the annual Laguna Biotech Meeting; recognition in the Pharmaceutical Executive “45 Under 45” andPharmaVOICE 100 issues, both in 2008; Mass High Tech All Star Award in 2007; and Ernst & Young’s New England Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Biopharmaceutical category in 2006.

Dr. Westphal enjoys traveling (he has visited over 130 countries) and playing the cello.  He is also fluent in English, German, Spanish and French.  Dr. Westphal is married with three young children.

November 21, 2008 Posted by | Biotech, Pharma, Profiles | , , , , | Leave a comment

Tarceva Reaches Phase III Primary Endpoint

A press release yesterday from Genentech (DNA) reports that its drug Tarceva (erlotinib) reached its primary endpoint in a Phase III global clinical trial.  Tarceva is used to treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and functions by interrupting the tyrosine kinase activity of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).

The study demonstrated that treatment with Tarceva immediately following platinum-based chemotherapy increased the period of time without further disease progression in patients suffering from NSCLC.  

Tarceva was initially discovered by OSI Pharmaceuticals (OSI) and is the only EGFR inhibitor that that has been proven to increase survival rates in advanced NSCLC.  The drug is now marketed through a partnership between OSI and Genentech.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Biotech | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whole Genome Sequencing

The standard approach in clinical DNA sequencing is that you focus on the most high impact stretches of DNA only, thereby reducing the number of base pairs that need to be sequenced.  Nonetheless, a new report to be released in todays journal Nature, discusses the whole genome sequencing of a cancer patient.

The project studied the genome of a tumor cell in a woman with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and compared the sequence to the genome of the same woman’s healthy skin cells.  According to the researchers, eight new mutations were identified that were specific to the patients cancer cells.

This study should invigorate the discussion surrounding whole genome sequencing and justify researchers looking to genotype entire genomes.

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Biotech | , , , | Leave a comment

Not another PML case…

Biogen Idec announced on Wednesday (Oct. 29, 2008) that another case of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) has been reported in a patient receiving the company’s multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Tysabri.  This is the sixth overall case of PML reported in patients taking Tysabri and the third since the drug was reintroduced on the market in June 2006.

The news has again affected the commercial outlook of Biogen Idec Continue reading

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Biotech | , , , | Leave a comment