People, Venture

Ex-Dendreon chief Mitch Gold steers his way back to the public markets, looking to jumpstart a new clinical program

Mitch Gold is coming back to the helm of a public biotech company.

The former Dendreon CEO — and current venture capitalist — who was forced out of that company as Provenge slowly derailed, is getting back into the public eye with considerably less fanfare this time around.

After Nivalis’ drug failed in a disastrous attempt to come up with an add-on to Vertex’s cystic fibrosis combo, about the only thing left after the inevitable slash and burn on staff and costs was a virtually empty public shell.

Mitch Gold

Nivalis had managed to catch one of the last waves in the old IPO boom in cashing in on investors’ interest in biotech. But by the time the market closed today the market cap had shrunk down to a mere $41.3 million. And now Gold’s Alpine Immune System is taking that over in a reverse merger that will scoot it out into the public market.

One of the big ideas at Alpine is to offer custom engineering work for the cell therapies now in the pipeline. Kite, crosstown Seattle biotech Juno and others have been adapting T cells into cancer weapons. And Alpine’s top scientists — Ryan Swanson and Michael Kornacker, who both left Amgen after the big biotech opted to shutter its Seattle campus — have come up with some new tech that they believe can make CAR-Ts and TCRs better equipped to hunt down and destroy cancer cells.

The company has also been working on proteins that can either amp up or tamp down on an immune response, and Alpine is planning to get started in the clinic with a Phase I study for a dual ICOS/CD28 antagonist engineered for use in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in the second half of 2018.

To get the deal done, Frazier Healthcare Partners, Gold’s Alpine BioVentures, and OrbiMed Advisors will invest a combined additional $17 million into Alpine Immune Sciences. The cash Alpine Immune brings to the table, combined with the $44 million that Nivalis has left, will give the company $90 million in cash. And Nivalis shareholders will hang on to 26% of the merged operations.

Longtime biotech observers will remember — or can’t forget — that Dendreon was once one of the high flyers in the industry. After the FDA finally got around to approving Provenge, though, new therapies were lining up to claim the bulk of the market it aimed for. But Gold made out well, cashing in $29 million in stock on the approval news and stock spike.

“This merger provides a unique opportunity to accelerate the development of our novel immunotherapy platform focused on both inflammation and immuno-oncology,” said Gold in a statement. “We look forward to building on our early success by taking multiple novel programs into the clinic to help patients with significant medical needs.”

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