Momenta Pharma options antibody against red meat-related inflammation

Another West Coast biotech startup has set sail for the Boston area. Sialix, a spinoff from the University of California, San Diego, has staked out office space in Cambridge, MA, and announced an option-based deal with Momenta Pharmaceuticals ($MNTA) for its lead therapeutic antibody against a target related to ingestion of red meat and other foods.

Sialix plans to occupy space in Dogpatch Labs in Kendall Square, where recently appointed CEO Jeff Behrens and Business Development Director Julie Hermann will be based, while the startup's research operation remains in the San Diego area. The new office places the startup close to Cambridge, MA-based Momenta as well as Behrens, who previously served as an executive at Edimer Pharmaceuticals after co-founding Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) since-shuttered biotech incubator.

Dr. Ajit Varki founded Sialix (which was incorporated as Gc-Free) to commercialize his research of a pathway that leads to inflammation from consumption of red meat and dairy. The N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc) from red meat and other foods gets nestled into the surface of human cells, triggering immune attacks against those cells that scientists hypothesize could lead to cancers, cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation. Humans don't produce Neu5Gc, a type of sialic acid.

Momenta has grabbed an option to a monoclonal antibody in preclinical development from Sialix that targets this pathway. Sialix is developing both therapeutic and nutritional options to treat and prevent cancer and chronic inflammation, according to the company's release. The startup isn't disclosing the financial terms of the option deal with Momenta.

"I think [the deal] is terrific validation for the technology upon which we're founded from the Varki Lab," Behrens told FierceBiotech in an interview. "It shows a real interest in our therapeutic antibody program and it helps us with getting access to some really smart people" at Momenta, while helping to support the startup financially.

A world-leading life sciences hub, the Boston area has attracted both startups and large companies to relocate or gain a presence in the area. Last month Xconomy reported that Sarepta ($SRPT), which has a white hot drug for muscular dystrophy under development, plans to relocate to the Boston area from Seattle.

"Massachusetts has invested in innovation and developing our life sciences capabilities in order to lead the world and attract pioneering new companies like Sialix," Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated in Sialix's press release. "We welcome Sialix and look forward to them continuing their amazing work here in the Commonwealth."

- here's the release