Jim Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up Pas­sage Bio bucks mar­ket sen­ti­ments, rais­ing up­sized $216M IPO

A coro­n­avirus fear-in­duced blood­bath on the Nas­daq has not stopped Pas­sage Bio from mak­ing a pub­lic de­but — and an ex­u­ber­ant one.

James Wil­son

By pric­ing an up­sized of­fer­ing at $18, the top of the range, the gene ther­a­py biotech bagged $216 mil­lion from its IPO, 72% more than it’s orig­i­nal­ly pen­ciled in.

The pro­ceeds like­ly re­flect­ed con­fi­dence in Jim Wil­son, who gath­ered all the tools he’s built over decades of gene ther­a­py re­search to as­sem­ble the start­up and teamed up with Fra­zier and Or­biMed to hone its fo­cus on rare, mono­genic dis­or­ders of the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. Just be­fore the IPO, Deer­field part­ner Bruce Gold­smith took over from Or­biMed’s Stephen Squin­to as CEO.

Bruce Gold­smith

Pas­sage in­di­cat­ed that the ma­jor­i­ty of the new funds will be ded­i­cat­ed to see­ing its top three pro­grams through the first parts of Phase I/II. More pre­cise­ly, around $43 mil­lion will go to­ward PBGM01 for GM1 gan­gliosi­do­sis; $45 mil­lion to PBFT02 for a sub­type of fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia; and $37 mil­lion to PBKR03 for in­fan­tile Krabbe dis­ease.

The rest will help ad­vance the dis­cov­ery and can­di­date se­lec­tion stage pro­grams, of which there are plen­ty: Pas­sage’s pact with Wil­son’s Gene Ther­a­py Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia cov­ers rights to 12 ther­a­pies at max­i­mum, to be ex­er­cised by 2022.

The com­pa­ny, which had 20 full-time em­ploy­ees at the end of last year, will be­gin trad­ing to­day un­der the sym­bol $PASG.

Trans­port Sim­u­la­tion Test­ing for Your Ther­a­py is the Best Way to As­sure FDA Ex­pe­dit­ed Pro­gram Ap­proval

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Jeff Albers, Blueprint CEO

Di­ag­nos­tic champ Roche buys its way in­to the RET ti­tle fight with Eli Lil­ly, pay­ing $775M in cash to Blue­print

When Roche spelled out its original $1 billion deal — $45 million of that upfront — with Blueprint to discover targeted therapies against immunokinases, the biotech partner’s RET program was still preclinical. Four years later, pralsetinib is on the cusp of potential approval and the Swiss pharma giant is putting in much more to get in on the commercial game.

Roche gains rights to co-develop and co-commercialize the drug, with sole marketing responsibility for places outside the US and China (where CStone has staked its claim).

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Ludwig Hantson, Alexion CEO

Why pay $4B for a steady di­et of dis­ap­point­ment? Porges turns thumbs down on Alex­ion’s M&A strat­e­gy, of­fers some point­ers

When Alexion announced recently that it was paying $1.4 billion to bag Portola and its underperforming Factor Xa inhibitor reversal agent, you could hear the head-scratching going on around virtual Wall Street.

Why was Alexion going down the discount lane for new products? And why something like this? Analysts have been urging Alexion to get serious about M&A for years if it was serious about diversifying the company beyond Soliris and its successor drug. But this wasn’t the kind of heavy-impact deal they were looking for.

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Bil­lions of dol­lars worth of SPACs are rid­ing on the biotech IPO boom

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman’s push to raise $4 billion for his blank check company, Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, is casting a spotlight on the SPACs. And amid a historic SPAC boom, biotechs are setting several records on what some observers say is shaping up to be a third major track — besides IPO and M&A — to go public.

“SPACs were approximately 3% of the IPO market back in 2014, now they are almost 35% of all new listings,” Jay Heller, the Nasdaq’s head of capital markets, told Endpoints News.

President Trump (left) and NIAID chief Anthony Fauci in the White House press room, April 22, 2020 (Michael Reynolds/Sipa via AP Images)

White House tries to dis­cred­it An­tho­ny Fau­ci — could he be on his way out?

For two months in late winter and early spring, Anthony Fauci and President Trump stood in uneasy co-existence at White House briefings — an unlikely truce between an infectious disease official who had helped combat AIDS and Ebola and a president who repeatedly denied the danger of a virus that would go on to kill 100,000 Americans, repeatedly rejected masks and certain social distancing efforts, and promoted a drug with little scientific basis.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP Images)

A top an­a­lyst turns the spot­light on Mod­er­na, fu­el­ing a fast-and-fu­ri­ous Street race over the fu­ture of mR­NA

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

Four months ago, one of the favorite talking points on the biopharma social media wave length was whether Moderna shares $MRNA were priced right or were wildly inflated.

After all, said the naysayers, the company had never actually pushed a treatment to an approval. Did messenger RNA really work, coding cells to make a drug or a vaccine? And how about all that chatter about how ‘secretive’ they are, or were?

Now, as CEO Stéphane Bancel and the top execs push the company to the forefront of a frantic race to develop the first vaccine to fight against the reignited wildfire spread of Covid-19, all those questions have been magnified — along with the stock price.

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Andrew Allen, Gritstone Oncology CEO

A neoanti­gen pi­o­neer says its tech is work­ing great. So what wrecked the share price?

Gritstone Oncology was one of the original neoantigen upstarts, raising cash and planning to disrupt the immuno-oncology field with a bold new approach to fighting cancer with a new brand of vaccines.

On Monday, the crew in charge ran out a full display of what they’ve been seeing in a Phase I study. And everything seems to be working perfectly with one big exception: It didn’t significantly shrink tumors, let alone eradicate them.

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Janet Woodcock, CDER chief (AP Images)

More Warp Speed con­tracts com­ing, vac­cine pro­duc­tion to be­gin in 4-6 weeks — of­fi­cials

Operation Warp Speed has already handed out 4 of what they once said would be 3-5 major contracts to develop Covid-19 vaccines, but administration officials indicated Monday that more would be on their way.

“The slate is not closed,”  a senior HHS official said on a call with reporters. “We’ve invested in four … but the slate is not closed.”

At the same time, the official indicated that Warp Speed would continue to focus on three technologies: mRNA, viral vectors and protein subunits. That leaves the door open for a wide range of platforms, notably including both of Merck’s vaccine candidates — one of which has already received BARDA funding — and one of Sanofi’s candidates. It appears to preclude, though, the potential for Inovio and Vaxart, among certain other small developers that have hyped their ties to the Trump administration, to be included.

Sanofi keeps foot on the gas, agree­ing to five-year col­lab­o­ra­tion with MD An­der­son

Just four months after scoring its first cancer drug approval in a decade, Sanofi is staying on the oncology offensive.

The French pharma is planning to accelerate the development of potential treatments, partnering with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in a five-year collaboration. By combining Sanofi’s pipeline with MD Anderson’s top-notch clinical trial program in oncology, the pair will launch biomarker-driven clinical studies to better understand which drug cocktails can effectively curb cancer progression.