Virtually unknown mRNA upstart rides SPAC to Nasdaq with a $1.5B valuation as RA-backed neuro player prices IPO
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Just a few days after EQRx announced its intent to merge with Eli Casdin’s third blank check company, another SPAC deal is wrapped up and ready for Nasdaq.
RNA tech firm GreenLight Biosciences will reverse merge its way to the public market, the company announced Tuesday morning, netting the biotech a roughly $1.5 billion valuation. GreenLight will merge with the SPAC Environmental Impact Acquisition Corp., which is backed by Canaccord Genuity Group and Hudson Bay Capital Management, and will get $207 million from the SPAC as well as $105 million in PIPE financing.
GreenLight is working on several experimental vaccines using mRNA technology, including for seasonal flu, Covid-19 and sickle cell disease. Execs have set out a “blueprint to vaccinate the world,” arguing that mRNA manufacturing capabilities are not up to snuff. GreenLight has proposed building seven new mRNA manufacturing facilities to try to combat this issue.
But the Medford, MA-based company got its start trying to shake up the pesticides market for industrial agriculture, spending most of its early efforts here since being founded in 2008 before pivoting to human health in late 2019, early 2020. CEO Andrey Zarur told Endpoints News that GreenLight’s platform combines two mRNA approaches — one that involves fermentation-based processes and another utilized by high-profile companies like Moderna and BioNTech involving transcription.
This “hybrid” model, Zarur said, can hopefully enable GreenLight to produce mRNA-based products at a much higher scale and much lower cost than the bigger names. The result is what the company calls “cell-free bioprocessing.”
“We use the same types of cells that are used to make antibodies, used in fermentation process,” Zarur said. “They’re very inexpensive and commonly used. We grow them, then we harvest the raw materials. It’s no different than if planting plants and harvesting the fruits.”
Zarur added that GreenLight had never planned on stopping at agriculture, but it was the first application where the company directed its platform. He touted GreenLight’s scientific advisory panel, including famed UPenn mRNA researcher Drew Weissman, as pivotal to helping the company branch out into life sciences a couple years ago.
“When we decided to move into human healthcare, we didn’t do it blindly,” Zarur said. “We didn’t do this half-assed.”
This past spring, GreenLight welcomed a former GSK Vaccines staffer to help further things along in Amin Khan. Khan, a member of the group’s R&D leadership team, is at least the fourth GSK Vaccines exec to leave the company in the last several months as it waited and fell far behind in the Covid-19 hunt.
Before Khan came Jeffrey Ulmer, who departed in July 2020; Amir Reichman, former head of global vaccines engineering core technologies, who left in January 2021; and Emmanuel Hanon, the former chief of vaccines research, who took a new job this past April. GSK also saw their president of US pharmaceuticals, Jack Bailey, depart in the summer of 2020 to take the CEO gig at G1 Therapeutics.
With the glut of SPAC pricings having slowed down from earlier this year, more and more blank check companies are finding partners to bring to Nasdaq. More than $18 billion has flowed into the biotech sector alone, per the Endpoints News tally, following nearly a dozen mergers announced in the second quarter. GreenLight is the fourth biotech SPAC to announce its merger so far in the third quarter.
Eliem completes rapid IPO rise
Eliem Therapeutics has completed its quick ascent to Nasdaq after emerging from stealth just this past March, raising $80 million and pricing shares at $12.50 apiece.
The biotech had likely been working on an IPO for a little while, as it had declined interview requests after a $60 million Series B back in May. Eliem is making its public debut with a pipeline of four neuro assets led by a prodrug of an endocannabinoid known as palmitoylethanolamide, or PEA.
Research for the compound had been in possession by RA Capital, where Eliem was incubated. Eliem’s lead candidate ETX-810 is currently in two Phase IIa studies looking at diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain and lumbosacral radicular pain. Data readouts are expected for the first half of 2022.
RA Capital is the big winner of the IPO, as the firm controlled more than 52% of shares before the offering. Post-offering, RA will still own about a 40% stake, according to the S-1. The firm AI ETI, backed by Access Industries Holdings, also takes home a 16.9% stake once the offering concludes.
And Valerie Morisset, the longtime pain researcher who took the CSO job at Eliem, will win an IPO prize as well. Morriset gets 1.2% of shares post-offering.
Eliem will trade under the ticker $ELYM.