Vital Signs: The Weekly Roundup

Here's your weekly dose of biotech and health care news in the Washington region, by Washington Post biotech reporter Kendra Marr:

*David M. Mott, former chief executive of MedImmune, joined the Chevy Chase venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates. Mott, who becomes a general partner at New Enterprise, will work on the health-care investment team, focusing on biotechnology and specialty pharmaceuticals.

*Martek Biosciences Corp. of Columbia announced a multi-year agreement with Hero, an international food company, to license and supply Martek's nutritious omega fatty acids, DHA and ARA. Hero is the parent company of Semper, a Martek licensee for infant formula, and Beech-Nut, a Martek food customer.

*Ocular Insight, a distributor of contact lenses, settled with Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, changing its marketing materials to replace "approved by the FDA" with "cleared by the FDA." Johnson & Johnson had challenged the Potomac-based company on the wording in a complaint filed July 29. "Ocular Insight chose not to spend significant resources fighting a large company," said Ocular president Mark Levin in a statement.

*Sequella of Rockville received a $2.3 million, three-year Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop SQ641, its new tuberculosis drug.

*Drug makers continue to bicker over how to enact legislation for an approval pathway for biosimilars, or generic versions of biotech drugs.

Teva Pharmaceuticals, a Israeli firm that recently purchased CoGenesys in Rockville for $400 million and has an government affairs office in the District, commissioned a study from Boston University economics professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff on the pending legislation.

Kolikoff found that bills drafted by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), as well as proposals by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), would "delay the pace at which innovative drugs are brought to market and lower the speed at which today's innovations are incorporated in tomorrow's discoveries." Instead Congress should use the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act, which opened the doors for generic competition in chemical drugs, as a template, he said.

Read more here.

*The Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) gave seven technology companies $75,000 each to launch a technology transfer collaboration. Startups include Innoscion, a Baltimore firm working with Johns Hopkins University to develop a catheter equipped with an imaging system; Integrated BioTherapeutics a Germantown company partnering with University of Maryland College Park to develop a multivalent vaccine against three toxins produced by Staph bacteria; and Spiralcat of Maryland, a Elkton company working with the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center to develop technology that converts high-moisture waste into water, nutrients and biofuel oil. Click here for the full list. The BIO 2020 Initiative proposed by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will increase this money, provided through TEDCO's Maryland Technology Transfer Fund, from $2 million in 2009 to $5 million in 2010. The initiative, if fully financed, will provide the fund $107 million over the next decade.

*Andre Hoffmann, a vice chairman of Roche Holdings, is now the largest outside shareholder of MedAssurant, a Bowie-based health care data analytics firm. Hoffman purchased $175 million in MedAssurant stock, increasing his ownership to just over 15 percent. Hoffman -- a descendant of Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche, who founded the Swiss drug giant in 1896 -- will also join the company's board of directors. MedAssurant advises health plans how to cut costs by crunching claims data, lab information and other statistics. Read more about Hoffmann's background here.

*On Oct. 1, HealthExtras of Rockville is changing its name to Catalyst Health Solutions. The company's ticker symbol will also change from HLEX to CHSI.

*Micromet's board of directors appointed Peter Johann, a current board member, to the Bethesda company's audit committee. Johann replaces Barclay A. Phillips, who resigned as an independent director to become Micromet's chief financial officer in August. Micromet develops antibody-based drugs for cancer, inflammation and autoimmune diseases. http://www.micromet.de/en/news/archiv.php

*Rockville-based Novavax began a second wave of tests of its seasonal flu vaccine in 300 healthy adults, ages 18 to 49. The vaccine uses particles that mimic the size and shape of the flu virus, but lacks the genetic material needed for replication.

*CEL-SCI Corp. of Vienna announced it would be opening its $22 million manufacturing facility on Oct. 8. The new facility, located in Elkridge, will make the company's lead drug Multikine, which harnesses the body's immune system to fight cancer. Multikine is about to undergo a third phase of clinical trials, testing 800 head and neck cancer patients.


*Bionor Immuno in Bethesda is enrolling a vaccine trial to give HIV patients a "holiday" from their anti-retroviral treatments. A break from HIV drugs could help ease side effects tied to the medication, such as heart and liver problems, that often force patients to stop taking their prescriptions. The company's goal is to recruit 345 patients in the United States and Europe for the trial. Test results will be available in late 2009.

By Dan Beyers  |  September 19, 2008; 2:00 PM ET  | Category:  Vital Signs
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