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Weekend Rounds: Innovation in anemia and vascular drugs, insulin

This week at MedCity News: Cincinnati’s Akebia races competitors to the market with an anemia drug, but its blood vessel drug might be a bigger winner. Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Weiss begins commercialization of a third-generation insulin that may become a blockbuster.

Here are five things from MedCity News this week that you should know:

♦   As Procter & Gamble started the slow dismantling of its pharmaceutical division three years ago, Cincinnati’s Akebia Therapeutics was there to pick up some pieces. Joseph Gardner and John Rice settled on a half dozen potential therapies in P & G’s catalog and, in a bidding process, picked up two molecules: a unique therapy for anemia and a way to prevent some heart-related side effects during cancer treatment. Now, Akebia is racing competitors to the market (as safely as possible), with its anemia drug. There seems to be even more excitement in the business about a second Akebia treatment meant to treat vascular leaks.

♦   Dr. Michael Weiss started studying insulin in 1985 when he was a clinical fellow in medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. More than two decades later, the chairman of the Biochemistry Department at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine is helping to found a business that could earn his latest discovery — a shelf-stable, super fast-acting insulin— the status of “blockbuster drug.” Richard Berenson is helping his Harvard roommate through Venzyme, his Boston venture catalyst firm.

♦  A good diagnostic, drug, device or therapy may not win money from a traditional investor or  in a traditional way this year. That’s the cold truth wrought by a triple whammy: a global financial meltdown, U.S. banking industry rescue and trough in the business cycle. Biomedical entrepreneurs and their advisers are still getting deals done, but they’re smaller deals and may include several investors instead of one, or the deals may involve government grant programs.

♦   Two Ohio representatives have introduced legislation that would give the Ohio Capital Fund at least $100 million more to invest in the state’s growth industries, such as health care. The Ohio Capital Fund commits its money to venture capital firms that have offices in Ohio. Those firms, in turn, are supposed to make seed or early stage investments in mostly Ohio companies to drive entrepreneurial growth, job creation and economic prosperity.  The fund has committed about $111 million — 74 percent — of the $150 million it started with in 2005, said Keary McCarthy, a spokesman for the Ohio House.

♦   In grant news: Israeli device company EarlySense will launch its product in the United States next year and will establish a base of operations in Greater Cleveland to develop the next version of the device as it accepts a grant from the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center (GCIC) at the Cleveland Clinic. In all, the GCIC awarded $2 million in grants… Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Cleveland Clinic win nearly $2 million in federal grants to study bioethics… Case medical and dental schools get a $20.5 million gift from the estate of a late alumnus and his wife… And three Case School of Medicine researchers will lead an interdisciplinary team that uses a $1.25 million, four-year, National Institutes of Mental Health grant to study schizophrenia.

Have a nice weekend.