Pushed by high costs in Cam­bridge, fast-grow­ing Deci­bel makes a pi­o­neer­ing leap to Fen­way

Not long ago, Deci­bel CEO Steve Holtz­man gath­ered his 20-mem­ber staff to­geth­er to check out new digs in Fen­way, a Boston neigh­bor­hood just across the Charles Riv­er from Cam­bridge, which has emerged in the last few years as per­haps the hottest sin­gle biotech hub on the plan­et.

It had every­thing he was look­ing for, and less.

Steven Holtz­man, CEO Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics

It had a good feel, he says, high­light­ing a neigh­bor­hood that has been made over to in­clude res­i­den­tial space, re­tail and of­fices. There was lots to do for the young staff. It was close to pub­lic trans­porta­tion. The Long­wood Med­ical cam­pus was near­by, where he plans to do col­lab­o­ra­tive work, as was Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic, where he’s on the board. And he was hap­py to jump in as the pi­o­neer biotech in Fen­way, tak­ing 32,000 square feet of space in Van Ness, lo­cat­ed at 1325 Boyl­ston Street, for a staff that is slat­ed to quadru­ple in size and hit about 100 by the end of next year.

The “less” part was about the rent.

“With large phar­ma mov­ing R&D to Cam­bridge, it has re­al­ly dri­ven rents through the roof,” says Holtz­man. Iron­i­cal­ly, they’re mov­ing there to be near the biotech up­starts.  “But they’re dri­ving the rent so high that it’s hard for biotechs to find space that they can af­ford.”

Holtz­man — the start­up CEO at In­fin­i­ty who left a top post at Bio­gen last fall in prepa­ra­tion for a move back to a start­up — has big plans for his $52 mil­lion A round, and they don’t in­clude splurg­ing on a lo­ca­tion around Kendall Square. Be­sides, he ex­pects oth­er biotechs to join the mi­gra­tion to Fen­way.

Holtz­man plans to stick with a trendy “open of­fice” en­vi­ron­ment, but in­sists that he’s not talk­ing about sim­ply gath­er­ing cu­bi­cles to­geth­er in an of­fice with­out walls.

“If you have a cul­ture of trans­paren­cy, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” says the CEO, “an open plan re­al­ly fa­cil­i­tates that and echoes your cul­ture.”

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

BeiGene CEO John Oyler at an Endpoints event in Shanghai, October 2018 (Credit: Endpoints News/PharmCube)

UP­DAT­ED: In a first, FDA green-lights use of a Chi­nese built can­cer ther­a­py — and more are com­ing

Weeks after Amgen took a $2.7 billion stake in BeiGene, the Beijing-based biotech has secured its first-ever FDA approval for zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, months ahead of schedule.

BeiGene’s drug, branded as Brukinsa, has secured accelerated approval for adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) — a typically aggressive, rare, form of blood cancer — who have received at least one prior therapy.

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