November 6, 2018
Bioscience Notebook

Alexion completes $1.2B acquisition; Hamden startup launches tissue-freezing device

Photo Contributed
Photo Contributed
Alexion Pharmaceuticals' research center at 100 College St.
Photo Contributed
Dr. Dmitry Kravtsov (pictured right), vice president of research and development at CT-based biomedical startup Vanessa Research, consults with Dr. Ludmila I. Kvochina, director of the research & development laboratory.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., which moved its headquarters from New Haven to Boston last July, has finalized a deal to acquire Boston-based biotech Syntimmune for up to $1.2 billion.

Under the deal, first announced in September, Alexion agreed to pay $400 million upfront and up to $800 million more if Syntimmune meets certain milestones.

Alexion CEO Ludwig Hantson called the deal, which closed Friday, "another critical step" toward expanding and diversifying the company's drug portfolio.

He said Alexion would continue to develop Syntimmune's lead drug candidate SYNT001, which is being evaluated for the treatment of warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a life-threatening autoimmune disease with no current treatment.

The disease is the result of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies reacting with and destroying red blood cells at normal body temperature.

Syntimmune is the second company Alexion has acquired this year as it tries to lessen dependence on its blockbuster drug Soliris, which treats a rare blood disease. The drugmaker, which still has a major research presence in the Elm City, also acquired Swedish biopharma Wilson Therapeutics last spring for $855 million.

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It's smaller than a child's lunchbox and could change the way tissue samples are cryogenically frozen in the lab.

Hamden-based medical-device startup Vanessa Research Inc. said Monday it has launched a first-of-its-kind product aimed at "batch cryopreservation" — the freezing of multiple tissue samples simultaneously.

Called Seal 'N Freeze, the device includes a disposable plastic tray with four separate molds that fits into a compact cryopreservation box. The compact design aims to accommodate the space limitations of a typical lab, the company said.

Former Yale University researcher Dr. Dmitry Kravtsov, now vice president of research and development at Vanessa, developed the idea out of frustration with the amount of time his staff was spending freezing tissue samples individually.

He said standard procedures involve using forceps to hold the sample above a beaker of a freezing medium and repeating the process for each additional sample.

"Every lab should be run like a business, and the time that staff spends just standing, waiting for one sample to freeze is a loss of productivity," Kravtsov said in a statement. "It can really add up for any team that performs cryopreservation on a somewhat regular basis."

The frozen samples are used in cryostat sectioning, a procedure that allows pathologists to perform quick microscopic analysis of specimens. The U.S. cryostat market is worth an estimated $1 billion annually, the company said.

Seal 'N Freeze began as a project of the Quinnipiac University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship with funding from CTNext, a subsidiary of the state's venture capital arm, Connecticut Innovations Inc.

Headquartered in Hamden, Vanessa Research also has offices in Farmington, London, Budapest and Navarre, Spain.

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The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved BioXcel Therapeutics' Investigational New Drug (IND) application for its lead immuno-oncology drug BXCL701, paving the way for a clinical trial by the end of the year.

BioXcel said Monday the trial would study BXCL701 combined with another drug, Keytruda (generic: pembrolizumab), as a potential treatment for a rare form of prostate cancer.

There is currently no treatment for tNEPC (treatment-emergent neuroendocrine prostate cancer) and the disease has a median survival time of less than one year, the company said.

The study, expected to enroll up to 40 subjects at multiple sites, will examine the safety and anti-tumor activity of the combination treatment.

BioXcel, which went public earlier this year, uses big data and machine learning algorithms to find new uses for existing drugs and to identify new ones in the fields of neuroscience and immuno-oncology.

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New Haven speciality diagnostics firm Precipio Inc. has struck a deal with global life sciences giant PerkinElmer to help market its ICE COLD-PCR mutation enrichment technology.

Under the agreement, the Massachusetts company will offer Precipio's product in a package with its own NextPrep-Mag cell-free DNA isolation kit, Janus G3 liquid handling workstation and chemagic MSM I, chemagic 360 and chemagic Prime platforms, Precipio said.

The technologies are used to support liquid biopsies, billed as a less invasive way to diagnose cancer. Precipio's product enhances the presence of tumor DNA in blood or other samples while maintaining the level of normal DNA, allowing a lab to more easily detect genetic abnormalities.

"With PerkinElmer's global reach, we expect the success of ICP's global market introduction to be significantly enhanced through this collaboration," Precipio Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Miller said in a statement.

Collaborative commercial efforts will include joint development and implementation of promotional material, instructions for use, product-supported development of white papers and posters, reciprocal sales and customer training and exhibits at trade shows and conferences, Precipio said.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

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New Haven antibiotics maker Melinta Therapeutics Inc., on the heels of the departure of its CEO, has named Bruce L. Downey to its board of directors.

Downey serves as partner at NewSpring, a venture capital firm, and is a member of the board of directors of Cardinal Health Inc. and Momenta Pharmaceuticals.

He previously served as chairman and CEO of Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc., which pharma giant Teva Pharmaceuticals acquired in 2008. Downey replaces Cecilia Gonzalo, who resigned following a change in principal employment.

Melinta last month named board member John H. Johnson as interim CEO after former CEO Dan Wechsler decided to step down after less than a year on the job.

Contact Natalie Missakian at news@newhavenbiz.com

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