Months after bursting into the bispecific scene out of nowhere, Janux follows the Merck hype to an IPO
Hot off of a $1 billion deal with Merck signed in December, Janux Therapeutics has been on a tear with virtually back-to-back financing rounds. Now, it’s ready for Wall Street.
Janux filed an IPO with the SEC Wednesday with a $100 million proposed offering, though that number has become a placeholder for biotechs in the last 16 months who often go on to raise much more.
December’s deal left Janux eligible for up to $500.5 million in upfront and milestone payments earmarked for each of two targets selected by Merck. Talks of the deal had started in person the January before the pandemic, and finalized as the Janux programs evolved, CEO David Campbell told Endpoints News in an interview.
But according to its S-1, Merck paid just $8 million upfront in connection to the first target, and will pay another $8 million upon the selection of the second. Janux will receive milestone payments of $142.5 million for each of the targets that successfully reach regulation, and the remaining potential $350 million will depend on sales of the licensed product.
Janux completed a $56 million Series A in March, then in late April, the company announced a $125 million crossover round led by RA Capital, a Boston VC behind several pre-IPO financings. It’s a company that’s flourished since the Merck deal, despite not entering the clinic yet. Previously, that would hold companies back from going public, but not as of late.
The small San Diego biotech was founded in 2017 on a T cell engager platform called TRACTr, which promises to produce drugs that alter their pharmacokinetics depending on the context. Upon activation in a tumor, its candidates are converted from their original form — which can remain in the bloodstream for over 100 hours — to a T cell engager that only circulates for less than an hour.
TCEs bridge a tumor cell and a T cell to redirect T cells to eliminate tumors, and are popular because the potential to offer them as readily available, off-the-shelf drugs avoids the manufacturing process typically associated with CAR T-cell therapies, which can be lengthy.
In its S-1 filing, the company said that TRACTr candidates tested in primates have shown the potential to significantly reduce the risk of toxic cytokine release syndrome response and improve half-life with weekly dosing in humans.
The company expects to submit at least 2 INDs by 2022’s end, initially seeking approval for later lines of therapy in patients with cancer. Its 2 lead candidates targeting TROP2 and PSMA were “on the cusp” of entering IND studies in Q1 back in December, Cambell said, though it appears to have missed that boat.
Janux is jumping in a field that’s gained substantial heat since Amgen first ushered Blincyto to an approval in 2014 for the treatment of lymphoblastic leukemia. Soteria Biotherapeutics with backing from Roche recently received Series A funding to advance its bispecific T cell engagers with an “on-off” switch that founders think can avoid some safety flags. Takeda bought Maverick in a $525 million deal in March after getting to know its T cell engager tech through a pact.
The S-1 filing also revealed that Janux has licensed a cell line from WuXi Biologics in April for $150,000. That deal could land WuXi as much as $15 million.