'Timing couldn't be better': An ex-generics maker goes SPAC route with blank check intended for sports market
Dave Mehalick originally planned for his company to be a generics maker with five drugs in the hopper. But quickly after founding Coeptis Therapeutics in 2017, he realized that area of the pharmaceutical market was “really becoming a race to the bottom.”
So, he pivoted. The little-known Pittsburgh-area biotech raised a couple million dollars over the years from private investors, went public on the OTC Pink market and linked arms with VyGen-Bio, the Karolinska Institutet and Statera Biopharma to become an oncology cell therapy developer.
And, as other biotechs and medtechs renege on their blank-check mergers and some SPACs themselves retreat from their IPO plans, Coeptis has decided to move forward with the blank check route and merge with Bull Horn Holdings Corp., the company disclosed Tuesday. The SPAC raised $75 million nearly 18 months ago to focus on acquiring a “leading sports, entertainment and brand” company.
“I think it’s great timing because we’re coming in at a low end in the biotech market,” CEO Mehalick told Endpoints News.”I think the pricing of where Coeptis stands right now is a great pricing for investors for the SPAC. I think we’re very well-positioned, which what I feel will be the next leg in the biotech market in the coming months to years. I think the timing couldn’t be better.”
He described the process as happening in “pretty rapid fashion.”
“We were already contemplating uplisting to a major exchange. We were in the process, in the throes of working with bankers to move towards that, and then one of our bankers approached us with an opportunity,” the CEO said. “I met with the senior management of Bull Horn, and we seemed to hit it off pretty much right out of the gate as they got an opportunity to see what we were doing.”
The merger agreement comes just six days after Coeptis announced it plans to acquire Statera’s TLR5 agonist platform, including entolimod, for $6 million upfront and undisclosed biobucks to follow. In December, the FDA lifted its clinical hold on entolimod for the treatment of acute radiation syndrome. The potential lethal radiation stockpile drug will likely enter a Phase II by the end of 2022, Mehalick said, noting scientific meetings to discuss the clinical plans begin today.
Coeptis also intends to help Statera develop and commercialize STAT-201 for adult and pediatric patients with Crohn’s disease, according to an SEC filing.
Coeptis is working on developing a cell therapy targeting CD38-related cancers and a pre-clinical in vitro diagnostic for such cancers with partner VyGen-Bio. The therapeutic is intended to enable combo therapy with anti-CD38 monoclonal antibodies. VyGen is led by Karolinska Institutet professors and leadership. The three executives — Evren Alici, Arnika Wagner and Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren — are also on Coeptis’ scientific advisory board, and the institution is where most of Coeptis’ scientific work currently takes place.
Mehalick said the company will beef up its headcount, currently under 10, to include a lab at Karolinska — near Stockholm — and hire more in the biotech’s native Wexford, PA.
The CEO founded Coeptis in 2017 with former employees from Three Rivers Pharmaceuticals, which was bought by Kadmon in 2010. Sanofi acquired Kadmon for about $1.9 billion last September. After originally going the generics route, Coeptis switched paths and sold its assets to ANI Pharmaceuticals for about $2.3 million, according to an SEC filing.
Coeptis also had a co-development agreement with Vici Health Sciences, inked in 2019, for CPT60621, an oral liquid version of an approved Parkinson’s drug. Because of its focus on the VyGen partnership, Coeptis said it has “recently stopped allocating priority resources” to the asset and Vici “intends to buy-out most or all of Coeptis’ remaining ownership rights,” according to a March SEC filing.
The biotech’s name “comes from the idea that God favors our undertakings,” Mehalick said.
Bull Horn is led by CEO Robert Striar and CFO Christopher Calise. Striar is president of M Style, a marketing firm focused on sports, entertainment and consumer products. Calise leads strategic work at private placement insurance holding company Crown Global.