Another biotech — Seattle-based Athira — files for an IPO, hoping to finally break through in Alzheimer's
Yet another biotech is aiming to go public, as this year’s IPO boom continues to show no sign of abating any time soon.
The newest entrant to the market is Athira Pharma, a small, Seattle-based company that pegs a $100 million target as its raise estimate. So far in 2020, there have already been 48 biotech IPOs, a number that surpasses the total from all of 2019.
Perceptive is the most prominent backer of the company, per the SEC filing, with the Joe Edelman-run hedge fund owning 11.6% of shares. RTW Investments put in a 10.9% stake, and Athira CEO Leen Kawas checks in at third with 9.4% ownership.
Athira focuses its efforts on neurodegenerative diseases, mainly Alzheimer’s, and just a couple months ago closed an $85 million Series B financing. Founded in 2011, the company has spent the majority of its time pushing the NDX-1017 program, a small molecule that targets hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and its receptor, MET.
Honing in on the damaged synaptic network in the brain is a familiar strategy in Alzheimer’s research, but the HGF target is relatively unexplored.
The goal of the Series B raise was to fund Phase II/III trials for the program after Athira presented what they said was a positive efficacy profile in Phase Ib.
In that study, researchers measured patients’ ability to count distinct tones inserted throughout a string of repeated sounds. For those with dementia, the normal recognition falls within a 400 to 450 millisecond range, Kawas said in June, and the study’s baseline was 390 milliseconds. In the drug arm of the trial, which enrolled just seven patients, that dropped to an average of 311 milliseconds. There was no change among four placebo patients, Kawas noted.
The Phase II/III study, randomized and double-blinded, is measuring two different doses in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. Athira is planning a separate late-stage study that will run in parallel to the currently ongoing trial.
Alzheimer’s research has generally ended poorly for those that have come before Athira, with the most prominent failures coming from multiple high-profile studies at Biogen surrounding the amyloid beta theory. Back in 2018, controversy arose about the design of a Phase II trial after analysts noted positive data were overshadowed by the fact that APOe4 carriers, who are at a higher risk of the disease, were placed in the lower-dose arm of the trial without taking them out of the placebo. Ultimately, that discrepancy may have allowed the data to hit its statistically significant endpoint.
According to SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, independent researchers “indicated that they believe most or all of the apparent difference in the [Phase II] trial was attributable to APOe4 differences,” and were “also very suspicious about the basis for Biogen’s enrollment expansion for their pivotal trials, and thought this was best explained as an attempt to achieve statistical significance from a marginal signal.”
But as Athira plans for their IPO, they appear undaunted by the trials that have come before.