M&A

Gene therapy startup Rocket Pharma reverse merges with troubled Inotek after $25M raise

Two months after Inotek shares cratered following the second conclusive failure of its lead glaucoma drug — scuttling its share price — the Lexington, MA-based biotech $ITEK has become a reverse merger shell for a gene therapy company called Rocket Pharmaceuticals.

Inotek CEO David Southwell said the reverse merger was the best option for shareholders, who will wind up with a 19% slice of the merged operation. Just before the announcement, Inotek stock ended the day at $1.05 and a market cap of $28 million — far less than cash.

Gaurav Shah

Rocket has kept a low profile, but it’s headed by Novartis vet Gaurav Shah, a Columbia-educated physician who spent several years working on the pharma giant’s breakthrough CAR-T program, according to his LinkedIn profile. Earlier this year Rocket filed a Form D with the SEC stating that it had raised $25 million of a $30 million round.

That filing included Naveen Yalamanchi at RTW as a principal, alongside his colleague Roderick Wong and Shah.

Rocket now emerges with a spot on the public markets and a focus on developing gene therapies with a pair of vector platforms to its credit. According to a report in Xconomy last year, Rocket has helped fund the research of Fred Hutch investigator Jennifer Adair, who’s been working on a bench top gene therapy system that could be used in the field, so to speak.

“Our vision is to create a fully-integrated platform gene therapy company with a portfolio of distinct treatments for devastating genetic diseases,” said Shah in a statement. “FA, LAD-1 and PKD are near term opportunities in rare bone marrow-derived disorders. The AAV-based approach, while earlier, will target treatment of a broader range of challenging diseases.”


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