Gene therapy player turned kidney specialist Vera drops a dud in leadup to Nasdaq, pricing well below range
Vera Therapeutics took a big risk at the start of the year, pivoting away from its gene editing mission statement to chase a lead kidney drug instead — and they doubled down with an IPO just months later. But investors don’t seem impressed with Vera’s promise, and now the biotech is looking at a far more scaled-back offering.
On Friday, Vera priced its 4.35-million-share IPO at $11 per share, well below its targeted range of $14 to $16 and good for $47.58 million in proceeds. The biotech will start trading Monday under the ticker $VERA.
In its initial S-1 filing with the SEC seeking as much as $86.25 million, Vera said it would use between $30 million and $35 million to complete its Phase IIb clinical trials, and another $15 million to $20 million to initiate a Phase IIb or Phase III trial for patients with lupus nephritis. The company said the proceeds would be able to fund operations for the next 18 months.
Vera got its start as Trucode Gene Repair, and originally intended to compete with CRISPR companies with a new form of gene editing. It was a dark horse in the race to bring gene therapy cures for sickle cell disease, a disease that affects 100,000 Americans and leaves them with sickle-shaped red blood cells that clog blood vessels. Trucode launched in September 2019, but just five months later, it filed a new trademark and domain name, and announced that they’d pivot to focus efforts on atacicept, a 20-year-old molecule in development for kidney disease. The January “re-launch” came with an $80 million Series C led by Abingworth.
In January, CEO Marshall Fordyce told Endpoints News that his company didn’t move on from the gene editing because of a failure in technology, but rather, “a matter of comparing opportunities.”
“We’re focused on development and commercialization and moving technologies down the development pipeline, and that’s really what’s driven our thinking,” he said.
Fordyce is a 15-year veteran of biotech, who previously served as Gilead’s senior director of clinical research. There, he contributed to the approval of seven drugs, and oversaw the tenofovir alafenamide development program, which eventually led to 5 new drugs and $12 billion in sales in 2019.
Atacicept is a fusion protein to treat IgA nephropathy that recently went through Phase IIa trials successfully. IgAN, also known as Berger’s disease, can lead to inflammatory tissue damage and kidney failure. Its history dates back to 2001, when Seattle biotech ZymoGenetics, which is now defunct, signed a deal to develop the drug with Serono.
In 2009, the drug was licensed to Merck KGaA, but most of the trials came up short for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Last November, shortly after the German pharma announced the successful Phase IIa data for patients with IgAN, Vera licensed the drug for a 10% equity stake and about $733 million in milestones.