Life sciences briefing: Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

RNAi developer PhaseRx gets $4M of a pledged $19M – Investor interest in RNA interference, an ancient cellular mechanism for silencing dangerous genes, continues apace. PhaseRx, a Seattle biotech, has raised $4 million of a pledged $19 million first funding round, the Seattle Times reports.

Investors included ARCH Venture Partners, 5AM Ventures and Versant Ventures. PhaseRx will draw down the rest of the cash as it achieves various milestones.

The company seems to have neither a Web site nor a press release, and the newspaper story isn’t particularly illuminating on the subject of what PhaseRx intends to do. This Seattle Post-Intelligencer article has more details, however; apparently PhaseRx plans to use some form of synthetic polymer to help RNAi molecules cross into cells. (It’s unclear whether the polymer would also help stabilize RNAi molecules, which are fragile and prone to disintegrate before reaching their targets.)

tyrx-logo-150px.gifTyRx Pharma, drug-device combo maker, raises $25M – Monmouth Junction, N.J., medical device maker TyRx Pharma raised $25 million in a new financing round. Investors included Clarus Ventures and Pappas Ventures.

TyRx focuses on implantable polymer-mesh bags meshes that have been coated with drugs of some kind. Its first product, the succinctly named AIGISrx CRMD Anti-Bacterial Envelope contains two antibiotics and is intended as an enclosure for implantable defibrillators designed to prevent infection. (UPDATE: The AEGISrx is actually the company’s most recent product. It also sells the Pivit, a similar polymer-mesh pouch for hernia surgeries. Also, the current financing round is the company’s fifth, according to VentureWire.)

agennix-logo-150px.gifAgennix aims at $40M for cancer drugs – Houston’s Agennix, a biotech developing drugs for cancer and other conditions, hopes to raise $40 million in a late-stage round to fund clinical trials, VentureWire reports. The company hopes to close the round by mid-year. Agennix is developing a bioengineered version of a human protein called talactoferrin that plays an important role in regulating the immune system. Agennix plans to use the funding to fund two late-stage, phase III trials of the drug in lung cancer.

cardionet-logo-150px.gifCardioNet sets IPO terms, aims to raise $96M – San Diego’s CardioNet, a maker of wireless cardiac-monitoring devices that hopes to buck the recent trend of IPO collapses, set terms of its proposed IPO and now hopes to raise as much as $95.8 million.

The overall IPO, however, would be much larger — as large as $182.2 million, in fact — because existing CardioNet investors plan to sell more shares than the company itself. While there’s certainly precedent for this sort of thing — Masimo, another Southern California diagnostic-equipment maker, raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars in its IPO last August, the vast majority of which went to selling shareholders, conditions now are far worse than they were six months ago.

CardioNet plans to price its shares between $22 and $24 apiece. Its IPO, it turns out, is part of a complex financial arrangement whereby its last round of funding — $110 million raised last spring — didn’t put a valuation on the company. Instead, those investors received a promise of common stock in the form of shares that convert on the eve of the IPO. The down side here is that if the IPO doesn’t go well, those investors may be hosed. See here for more details.