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.

Com­mu­ni­cat­ing the val­ue of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine

By Natasha Cowan, Content Marketing Manager at Blue Latitude Health.
Many stakeholders are confused by novel precision medicines, including patients and healthcare professionals. So, how can industry help them to navigate this complexity?

Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare. It embodies the shift from treating many patients with the same therapy, to having the tools to identify the best treatment for every patient.

(Image: Associated Press)

Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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What does $62B buy you these days? A lot, says Take­da ex­ecs as the phar­ma play­er promis­es a block­buster R&D fu­ture

First comes the $62 billion buyout. Then comes the asset auction and reorganization to pay down debt. Now comes the detailed pledge of a bigger, brighter future in drug development.

That’s where Takeda finds itself on R&D day today, about 11 months after closing on their Shire acquisition. R&D chief Andy Plump is joining CEO Christophe Weber and other top members of the team to outline a new set of priorities in the greatly expanded pipeline at Takeda, which has jumped into the top ranks of the world’s pharma giants in the wake of the Shire deal.

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BeiGene CEO John Oyler at an Endpoints event in Shanghai, October 2018 (Credit: Endpoints News/PharmCube)

UP­DAT­ED: Chi­na's BeiGene scores first-ever FDA ap­proval — but can they carve up J&J's block­buster fran­chise?

Weeks after Amgen took a $2.7 billion stake in BeiGene, the Beijing-based biotech has secured its first-ever FDA approval for zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, months ahead of schedule.

BeiGene’s drug, branded as Brukinsa, has secured accelerated approval for adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) — a typically aggressive, rare, form of blood cancer — who have received at least one prior therapy.

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Spe­cial re­port: Twen­ty ex­tra­or­di­nary women in bio­phar­ma R&D who worked their way to the top

What differentiates a woman leader in biopharma R&D from a man?

Not much, except there are fewer of them in senior posts. Data suggest women are not more risk-averse, family-oriented or less confident than their male counterparts — indeed the differences between the two sexes are negligible. But a glance at the top R&D positions in Big Pharma leaves little doubt that upward migration in the executive ranks of biopharma R&D is tough.

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GSK's asth­ma bi­o­log­ic Nu­cala scores in rare blood dis­or­der study

GlaxoSmithKline’s asthma drug Nucala, which received a resounding FDA rejection for use in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) last year, has shown promise in a rare blood disorder.

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Mer­ck buys a fledg­ling neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech spawned by an old GSK dis­cov­ery al­liance. What’s up with that?

Avalon Ventures chief Jay Lichter has a well-known yen for drug development programs picked up in academia. And what he found in Haoxing Xu’s lab at the University of Michigan pricked his interest enough to launch one of his umbrella biotechs in San Diego.

Xu’s work laid the foundation for Avalon to launch Calporta, which has been working on finding small molecule agonists of TRPML1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, mucolipin subfamily, member 1) for lysosomal storage disorders. And that pathway, they believe, points to new approaches on major market neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

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Carson Block. Muddy Waters via YouTube

Shorts ga­lore: Mud­dy Wa­ters sees slide for Pep­tiDream, tweets con­cerns about Fi­bro­Gen's new da­ta

The short seller Muddy Waters is taking aim at Japan’s most profitable biotech, projecting a slide for a company that has skyrocketed over the last four years. Meanwhile, the firm tweeted out an analysis accusing FibroGen of manipulating data to obscure safety concerns in their latest reveal, although some investors seem satisfied by the biotech’s explanation.

Muddy Waters shorted PeptiDream, a Japanese biotech-for-hire that leveraged its peptide library into partnerships with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, a 50% profit margin and $6 billion valuation. The firm noted that despite its esteem, PeptiDream has failed to bring a drug to market 13 years after its 2006 launch (although this is not especially rare for biotech).

Pin­cer move­ment: Cal­i­for­nia biotech gets $35M to suf­fo­cate can­cer in co­or­di­nat­ed at­tack

Having served in Afghanistan, the navy veteran leading California-based EpicentRx wants to leave no patient behind with his arsenal of anti-cancer drugs. On Thursday, the company was given a $35 million boost to further its mission.

The injection of funds will be used to shepherd its late-stage CD47 drug, RRx-001, to the FDA for marketing, and its oncolytic virus program into the clinic.

RRx-001, engineered as an agent that makes tumor cells more sensitive to therapy, is in a Phase III trial in combination with chemotherapy for use in third-line and beyond small cell lung cancer (SCLC). The drug has been granted orphan drug designation from FDA for SCLC, neuroendocrine cancer and glioblastoma.