With money flowing, Pliant Therapeutics heads to public well
Fresh off raising a $100 million Series C and sending their second compound into the clinic, Pliant Therapeutics is headed for Wall Street.
The South San Francisco-based biotech filed this morning for an $86 million IPO. The money will help fund clinical development of their lead program for a rare lung disease and rare liver disease and boost preclinical research for oncology and muscular dystrophy.
The IPO comes amid a series of large public financings for biotechs, as investors funnel dollars out of industries struggling during the pandemic. Small cancer biotechs Zentalis and ORIC raised $165 million and $125 million a piece, while ADC filed for $125 million. Yesterday, already public Immunomedics was able to raise $459 million in a new offering.
For Pliant, the deal comes just two months after a $100-million Novartis-led raise, after which CEO Bernard Coulie acknowledged an IPO could be coming but refused to comment to Xconomy on when.
Although Pliant is raising money in part to push forward a lead program they’ve had since their founding, the company’s S-1 also signals a shift for the group. Third Rock founded the group around technology meant to block TGF-β activation, a key pathway in fibrosis, and while they long emphasized the applications across different diseases, their first targets were rare diseases and liver diseases.
They developed an TGF-β inhibitor called PLN-74809 and brought it into the clinic for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a condition that involves irreversible scarring of the lungs, and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a progressive form of inflammation in the lung and gallbladder.
Pliant also developed PLN-1474, an inhibitor of the same pathway that Novartis will try to develop for NASH. The collaboration, announced in October, paid Pliant $80 million upfront, covered costs for Phase I and subsequent development, and also granted Novartis access to up to 3 other preclinical candidates. Although NASH has seen a slew of failures — most recently with GenFit’s Phase III loss yesterday — the disease still represents an enormous market for drug companies.
Going forward, though, the company’s new experimental compounds will come in cancer and muscular dystrophy.
For cancer, the idea is based in immuno-oncology. The company cited research indicating that TGF-β plays a role in a tumor’s ability to turn down inflammation in its micro-environment and evade the immune system. They will try to use an inhibitor to turn down that anti-inflammatory response and make tumors more susceptible to checkpoint therapies — a common goal for cancer biotechs.
In muscular dystrophy, the company is developing an antibody to allosterically inhibit an undisclosed integrin they say is upregulated in muscle cells across different muscular dystrophies, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
But both those programs are in the preclinical stage. And for now, most eyes will rest on PLN-74809 and how it performs in the clinic. The company is recruiting for a pair of Phase IIa trials in IPF and they recently were cleared for a Phase IIa in PSC. Covid-19, though, could throw timelines completely in the air. The results could also be muddied:
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place restrictions, commencement of enrollment of our clinical trials of PLN-74809 in IPF and PSC has been delayed. We anticipate delays in site start-up activities of one to two quarters for both the PLN-74809 IPF and PSC Phase 2a trials, and we could experience slower than expected enrollment. In addition, after enrollment in these trials, if patients contract COVID-19 during participation in our trials or are subject to isolation or shelter in place restrictions, this may cause them to drop out of our trials, miss scheduled doses or follow-up visits or otherwise fail to follow trial protocols. If patients are unable to follow the trial protocols or if our trial results are otherwise disputed due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or actions taken to mitigate its spread, the integrity of data from our trials may be compromised or not accepted by the FDA or other regulatory authorities, which would represent a significant setback for the applicable program.