by MARIE DAGHLIAN
Bill and Melinda Gates say that their foundation will commit $10 billion over the next 10 years to help research, develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries. They made their announcement at the world Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland and were joined by Julian Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, which was launched at the Forum ten years ago. The couple said that their pledge was inspired by the remarkable progress made on vaccines in recent years and comes in addition to the $4.5 billion that the Gates Foundation has already committed to this area of medicine.
“We must make this the decade of vaccines,” said Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft (MSFT) and co-chairman of the foundation. “Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries. Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before.”
Several major venture capital financings were also completed in an otherwise quiet week for life sciences dealmaking.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech Alnara Pharmaceuticals secured $35 million in a Series B venture financing led by new investor MPM Capital, and joined by current investors Third Rock Ventures, Frazier Healthcare and Bessemer Venture Partners. Alnara develops non-systemic, orally-delivered protein therapeutics for the treatment of metabolic diseases. Its lead product liprotamase is a novel, non-porcine pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, which has completed phase 3 clinical development in collaboration with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Therapeutics. The company is on track to file a new drug application for liprotamase as a treatment for pancreatic insufficiency in patients with cystic fibrosis with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of March, according to CEO Alexey Margolin.
Dutch biopharmaceutical company Merus closed a $30.7 million Series B financing round led by new investors the Novartis Option Fund, Pfizer, Bay City Capital, and Life Science Partners. Merus’ seed investor Aglaia Oncology Fund also participated in the financing. Merus uses its proprietary technology platform that includes transgenic mice to produce highly potent human antibody-based drugs and will use the Series B proceeds to further advance its product pipeline in oncology, inflammation and infectious disease. Along with the financing, Merus also entered into an option agreement with the Novartis Option Fund for an exclusive license to one of Merus’ oncology programs. The agreement includes upfront and potential milestones payments totaling over $200 million plus royalties.
Flexion Therapeutics closed a $42 million Series A financing round with a $9 million investment from Pfizer’s Venture Capital group. Pfizer joined venture investors Versant Ventures, 5AM, and Sofinnova Partners who contributed to an initial Series A funding round of $33 million in 2009.
The Massachusetts based drug developer also announced agreements with AstraZeneca (AZN), Merck (MRK) Serono, and one other pharmaceutical partner, in-licensing the rights to four clinical-stage compounds to establish a mature pipeline of clinically enabled drug candidates focused on inflammatory diseases. Financial terms were not disclosed but the agreements include milestone payments and royalties if the compounds are successful. According to CEO Mike Clayman, the company was able to review more than 100 compounds from numerous potential partners before selecting the ones they chose to develop. Flexion was founded in 2007 by Clayman and Neil Bodick, the creators of Eli Lilly’s Chorus division, to in-license clinically enabled drug candidates with high-specialty potential and develop them to proof of concept and beyond rapidly and efficiently.
Finally, cardiovascular diagnostic test developer BG Medicine said it plans to raise up to $86.3 million in an initial public offering to fund the launch its lead product, a test for heart failure. The company expects to be able to begin marketing the diagnostic test in the United States in the second half of this year, pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. The Massachusetts-based biotech company has applied for listing on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol BGMD.
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