Four biotechs haul in $303M+ from a fresh burst of IPOs

De­spite the longest-ever US gov­ern­ment shut­down sub­du­ing IPO ac­tiv­i­ty in the first-quar­ter — health­care IPOs dom­i­nat­ed, ac­count­ing for 70% of the 20 IPOs in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to ac­count­ing firm Ernst & Young. In­ter­est in the sec­tor has far from cooled — with four drug de­vel­op­ers fo­cus­ing on a range of con­di­tions from the ever-pop­u­lar im­muno-on­col­o­gy to fail­ure-friend­ly Alzheimer’s — set to make their pub­lic de­buts on Thurs­day.

Lieping Chen

In March, Yale spin­out NextCure laid out the blue­print for its im­muno-on­col­o­gy re­search in Na­ture Med­i­cine, af­ter se­cur­ing $40 mil­lion up­front in an R&D col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lil­ly and bring­ing its cash haul to a cool $180 mil­lion. The com­pa­ny — found­ed in 2015 by Lieping Chen, a not­ed I/O re­searcher be­hind Am­plim­mune, a com­pa­ny bought out by As­traZeneca five years ago — has now raised $75 mil­lion in an IPO. The com­pa­ny, which is poised to trade un­der the sym­bol $NXTC, of­fered 5 mil­lion shares at $15 — the mid­point of its range of $14 to $16. The Beltsville, Mary­land-based drug de­vel­op­er is fo­cus­ing on PD-L1-neg­a­tive tu­mors to help the scores of pa­tients for whom check­point in­hibitors don’t work. Its lead ex­per­i­men­tal drug — NC318 — tar­gets an im­munomod­u­la­to­ry re­cep­tor called Siglec-15 and is cur­rent­ly be­ing test­ed in a Phase I/II tri­al in pa­tients with ad­vanced or metasta­t­ic sol­id tu­mors.

Steve Dominy

With the field of Alzheimer’s drug de­vel­op­ment lit­tered with fail­ure and the amy­loid-be­ta hy­poth­e­sis all but dead, a fresh ap­proach to treat­ing the mem­o­ry-wast­ing dis­ease has gar­nered in­ter­est in Cor­texyme. The South San Fran­cis­co-based biotech is bet­ting that Por­phy­romonas gin­gi­valis — a bac­te­r­i­al pathogen as­so­ci­at­ed with chron­ic pe­ri­odon­ti­tis — could be vi­tal to com­bat­ing Alzheimer’s-re­lat­ed neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion, based on the find­ings of  UCSF psy­chi­a­trist Steve Dominy. Cor­texyme’s lead ex­per­i­men­tal drug is de­signed to in­hib­it gingi­pains — the tox­ic pro­tease se­cret­ed by P. gin­gi­valis — and is be­ing eval­u­at­ed in Phase II/III study. Backed by Pfiz­er (14.71%) and Take­da (12.32%), the com­pa­ny has now raised $75 mil­lion in an IPO. The com­pa­ny, which is set to trade un­der the sym­bol $CRTX, of­fered 4.4 mil­lion shares at $17 — the mid­point of its range of $16 to $18.

With car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases im­pli­cat­ed in an es­ti­mat­ed third of all deaths, drug­mak­ers (and in­vestors) are al­ways on the hunt for new treat­ments. Cana­di­an biotech Mile­stone Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals’ sole as­set is a nasal spray for­mu­la­tion of a cal­ci­um chan­nel block­er, which has been craft­ed to treat a rapid heart rate con­di­tion that is usu­al­ly treat­ed with in­tra­venous in­fu­sions in the ER. The hope is the rapid-on­set drug (cur­rent­ly in late-stage de­vel­op­ment) can help pa­tients re­solve sud­den episodes of parox­ys­mal supraven­tric­u­lar tachy­car­dia — which are of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by pal­pi­ta­tions, chest pres­sure, pain, short­ness of breath and faint­ing — on their own. The drug, etri­pamil, is al­so be­ing eval­u­at­ed for atri­al fib­ril­la­tion and angi­na. Ven­ture in­vestors col­lec­tive­ly claim more than 80% of the com­pa­ny, which raised $82.5 mil­lion in an up­sized IPO. The drug de­vel­op­er, set to trade as $MIST, of­fered 5.5 mil­lion shares at $15, sell­ing an ad­di­tion­al 500,000 shares at the mid­point of the range of $14 to $16.

Bill Hin­shaw

About a year af­ter en­tic­ing No­var­tis ex­ec­u­tive Bill Hin­shaw to run its op­er­a­tions, Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing-backed Ax­cel­la Health is tak­ing its pre­clin­i­cal pipeline of meta­bol­ic mod­u­la­tors — based on sci­ence that sug­gests amino acids can re­store health across a net­work of dys­reg­u­lat­ed path­ways — on to the pub­lic mar­ket. The com­pa­ny’s lead ex­per­i­men­tal drug is be­ing de­vel­oped for he­pat­ic en­cephalopa­thy, which are neu­ropsy­chi­atric ab­nor­mal­i­ties as­so­ci­at­ed with pa­tients suf­fer­ing from liv­er dys­func­tion, typ­i­cal­ly chron­ic liv­er dis­ease. The Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based biotech — set to trade un­der the sym­bol $AXLA — raised $71 mil­lion by of­fer­ing 3.6 mil­lion shares at $20, the low end of the range of $20 to $22.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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Sanofi takes a $260M hit to ex­tri­cate it­self from a dis­as­trous al­liance with Lex­i­con

Sanofi spent $300 million in cash to get into a $1.7 billion alliance with Lexicon on their SGLT1/2 diabetes drug sotagliflozin. And now that the drug has been spurned by the FDA after burning through a program that provided mixed late-stage data and a late shot at a last-place finish, the French pharma giant is forking over another $260 million to get out of the deal.

Sanofi’s unhappiness was already apparent when the company — now under new CEO Paul Hudson — posted a statement back in July that they were dropping the deal. But it wasn’t that simple. 

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.