Investors give ailing Unum a lease on life and a whole new suite of experimental cancer drugs
Investors, it seems, are willing to give Unum Therapeutics one last shot — or at least one last shot to a company of that name.
The ailing cancer biotech, beset by a series of clinical holds and multiple failed lead programs, announced today that they’ve acquired Kiq LLC and that investors are putting in $104 million to advance Kiq’s pipeline of kinase inhibitors. Unum shareholders will now own only 16.2% of the company and CEO Chuck Wilson indicated that the cell therapies the biotech has worked on since its founding may be on their way out, saying Unum will “explore strategic options” for those products.
“Unum has explored a range of strategic alternatives through an orderly process to maximize shareholder value, and we believe this acquisition represents the highest-potential value creation opportunity for Unum stockholders,” Wilson said in a statement. “We are excited by Kiq’s lead clinical program and the potential to build a pipeline of novel kinase inhibitors while continuing to explore strategic opportunities for our cell-based therapy programs.”
The move restored some investor faith in the biotech, lifting them out of deep penny stock territory to $2.20 per share.
The company-changing move comes four months after Unum signaled they were ready to consider any option that might keep the biotech afloat. In a single week at the start of March, the company announced they were laying off 60% of its workforce, losing their CSO and that their lead program had been hit with an FDA hold after it may have led to a new malignancy in a patient. It was the latest in a series of holds dating back to the company’s IPO, when the Atlas-backed and Bruce Booth-chaired company disclosed in the S-1 that their lead drug had led to the death of 2 patients.
Unum announced that month they would scrap the lead program and, for a second time in their short history, shift focus to a preclinical candidate. Investors expressed their faith in the move by pushing the stock deeper into penny stock territory, scraping 30 cents.
The new deal will put Unum’s focus on a lead candidate called PLX9486. It already has results in Phase I for GIST tumors, leading to a progression-free survival of 11 months in 18 patients, and will also be tested in advanced systemic mastocytosis and indolent systemic mastocytosis. They have cash runway through 2022.