Friday, January 10, 2014

A Rush And A Push And The Financings Of The Fortnight Is Ours

Meet us at the St. Francis, and bring your own damn water!
Happy Morgan's Eve, everyone. If you’re like FOTF, you’ve been preparing for the week ahead by breaking your day into 25-minute conversations. If our kids need to talk to us, we tell them to take the stairs to the tenth floor, run down the hall, squeeze past 120 people coming out of the bathroom, steal some bottled water left outside a partnering suite, and find Room 1450. Come in, sit down, just  wait while we finish a few emails on our phones. Yes? You can’t sleep? Not exactly an unmet medical need. We’ve also wondered a few times if a toddler’s point blank sneeze into one’s mouth counts as a new form of immunotherapy.

For those of you with older children, you might be practicing for JPMorgan this week when the conversation inevitably turns to financing. Hit your yard-work milestones to trigger the next allowance tranche. That’s the way it is as long as you live under my term sheet, er, roof. 

Whatever the year, there’s always a sensation of falling out of a holiday tree, or warm cozy bed, directly into the boiling JPMorgan cauldron. This year, organizers gave us a bit of a break, pushing the conference back one week, but the slight lag was immediately filled up by a breakneck filing of IPO documents: Six so far in the new year alone, adding to several that squeezed their paperwork through before the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. (We have details on one of those filers, Flexion Therapeutics, in our roundup below.) A few of those, plus others still in the IPO queue after filing in the back half of 2013, have significant Phase II or Phase III clinical milestones. Yet others that haven’t declared publicly their IPO intentions also have big milestones upcoming, and we can’t help but think their S-1’s won’t be too far behind if a few companies currently in the queue make their debuts soon.

In the next Start-Up, our colleague Stacy Lawrence previews several private companies with upcoming late-stage clinical data, and one thing’s clear: There’s not a lot of 100% novel technology working up the pipeline. That’s not to say the companies in question aren’t doing important or technically difficult work. But many of the products due for data have an element of de-risking that made for faster development and a more reasonable investment thesis, especially worth noting when the company is making a push in an indication where approval has been an elusive target.

For example, Intarcia Therapeutics is delivering an off-patent diabetes drug, exenatide, via a subcutaneous pump that carries a year’s worth of treatment. Intarcia hasn’t filed an S-1 yet, not publicly anyway, but its deep roster of crossover investors makes one hear a ticking clock -- or is that the beat of the subcutaneous pump?

We can’t help but pump Start-Up's upcoming A-List, the annual roundup of the year’s top Series A financings. The 2013 winners include entrants from the fields of gene therapy, immunotherapy, epigenetics and food allergies, and a few have had very unusual financial backers. Learning who's who will be your reward for surviving next week.

And a year from now, perhaps the 2014 A-Listers will include a biotech that has launched with equity crowdfunding. That would be a first. One crowdfund platform that we’ve reported on before, Poliwogg, will try to make a splash in San Francisco next week, so stay tuned to our colleagues from "The Pink Sheet" and Start-Up for more on that. We regret to inform, however, that splashing is generally frowned upon these days in California. Unlike IPOs, raindrops are in short supply, and 2013 was the driest year on record. So we ask you out-of-towners to think twice before showering while you’re here, and if a stranger on the street looks longingly at your Evian, be kind. We’re parched. Better yet, you can save water by drinking your fill of 2014’s first installment of...

Flexion Therapeutics: As its clinical candidates for treating osteoarthritis inch closer to pivotal studies, Flexion has joined the IPO parade. In case anyone’s knees hurt from all that marching, Flexion’s three compounds are formulated for long-lasting pain relief and injection directly into the knee joint. FX006, Flexion’s lead product for front-line use, is a formulation of a common steroid, triamcinolone, that in 2013 posted solid Phase IIb results, but the company still has work to do: it plans a second Phase IIb trial that is set to begin in the second quarter of 2014, to determine the drug’s optimal dose before Phase III. A second product, FX005, is a sustained-release p38 inhibitor; Flexion is positioning the product for end-stage (pre knee replacement) osteoarthritis pain. The company aims to file an IND for a third product, the TrkA antagonist FX007 for post-op pain, later this year. Both ‘005 and ‘007 were licensed from AstraZeneca PLC, in separate deals. Flexion’s founders, Michael Clayman and Neil Bodick, famously institutionalized “A-Team”-style rapid and inexpensive to-proof-of-concept drug development at Eli Lilly & Co. as creators of that company’s ‘Chorus’ model, and struck out on their own in 2007 to monetize POC assets as a stand-alone biotech. At the time, they anticipated that by licensing in pharma assets they could develop and flip them quickly. But the economics they were offered weren’t going to provide the kind of returns they originally anticipated. The company’s reinvention underscores the difficulty of timing biotech models to pharmaceutical tastes, and – at least during the comparably leaner years of 2011-12 – pointed to industry’s increased avoidance of clinical risk. Flexion’s private backers – Versant (~30%), Sofinnova (~19%), Pfizer (~17%), 5AM (~16%), and Novo AS (~11%) – surely hope that timing public investors’ enthusiasm for biopharma is an easier task. – Chris Morrison

AC Immune: When the big Alzheimer’s Phase III trials featuring anti-amyloid treatments failed in 2012, many eyes in the field turned to AC Immune. With arguably the deepest Alzheimer’s pipeline of any private biotech, the Swiss firm said January 9 it has raised a Series D round of 20 million Swiss francs ($22 million) from existing investors. It also said it has launched a Phase I trial of a vaccine to stimulate a patient’s antibodies against phosphorylated tau, a protein that accumulates in tangled formations within neurons. Tau tangles, along with amyloid plaques, are considered two signposts of Alzheimer’s disease, but much debate remains whether the pathologies are treatable or simply an effect of disease progression. Meanwhile, one of the world’s most closely watched Alzheimer’s trials has just begun dosing patients with AC Immune’s monoclonal antibody crenezumab. The trial is funded by Genentech, the Banner Institute, and the US National Institutes of Health, and it involves people in Colombia with high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s who have yet to show cognitive decline. If successful, it would be one of the first signals that anti-amyloid therapy has a preventative effect if administered before symptomatic onset. Dosing began in December, according to AC Immune. The firm has raised 84 million Swiss francs since its 2003 inception, all from individual investors. – Alex Lash

Receptos: Seven months after completing its IPO, Receptos turned back to public shareholders to raise more money, grossing $102 million in a follow-on public offering on January 8. The biotech sold 3.3 million shares for $30.75, a 120% increase from its $14-per-share IPO price. Days before the offer closed, Receptos started enrolling patients in the Phase III portion of its RADIANCE trial of lead candidate RPC1063 for relapsing multiple sclerosis. RPC1063 is being tested in a separate Phase II trial in ulcerative colitis, and Receptos plans to release top-line data on both indications in mid-2014. Recently the USPTO issued composition-of-matter patents on RPC1063, giving the compound patent coverage until at least May 2029. Receptos is busy with others in the pipeline too: it’s designing a Phase II study of RPC4046 in active eosiniphilic esophagitis. AbbVie partnered the anti-interleukin-13 antibody with Receptos in May. Once the study results are published, AbbVie has an option to enter into a worldwide co-development deal with Receptos, which would retain co-promotion rights and split US profits. In addition, this year Receptos expects to select a lead agent from its glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor small-molecule positive allosteric modulator program and start IND-enabling studies in Type II diabetes. -- Amanda Micklus

Blueprint Medicines: The Cambridge, Mass. biotech said January 7 it had secured a $25 million Series B round as it pushes its selective kinase inhibitors, aimed at specific mutations mapped through its platform, toward the clinic. It says its lead compounds should enter the clinic in 2015. They are an inhibitor of the mutation that drives both systemic mastocystosis, an overproduction of mast cells in various organs and tissues, and a subset of gastrointestinal stromal tumors; and an inhibitor of a mutation that leads to a specific type of hepatocellular carcinoma. The firm was initially funded by Third Rock Ventures and Fidelity Biosciences, but neither of those deep-pocketed groups has taken the lead for the B round. Instead, Swiss oncology investment specialists Nextech Invest led the round, with crossover investors Biotech Value Fund and Casdin Capital, Third Rock, and Fidelity, and other undisclosed investors joining in. The crossovers could be a sign that Blueprint is gathering itself for a run at the public markets this year. The firm has been led since last spring by an interim CEO, Third Rock partner Alexis Borisy, who took over for co-founder Chris Varma without an announcement. – A.L.

Best of the Rest (Highlights of Other Activity This Fortnight): Alexar Therapeutics, the latest biotech to come out of asset-based financing entity NeXeption, closed on a $21.5 million Series A round led by New Science Ventures and Third Point Ventures to support work on a topical liver X receptor agonist for inflammatory cutaneous disorders…Auspex, which has a S-1 on file to go public, raised more venture dollars: the orphan disease-focused biotech received $20 million in Series E financing and $15 million in a venture loan...Neuralstem will advance cell therapeutics and small molecules, including lead spinal cord stem cell-derived NSI566 for ALS, thanks to a $20 million registered direct offering…after postponing its IPO in November, GlycoMimetics revived the offering and set terms at 5.75 million shares for $8…and GW Pharmaceuticals, maker of cannabinoid prescription drug Sativex, raised $88 million in a FOPO. -- AM

Stampeding wildebeests (heading to the Celgene presentation?) courtesy of t3rmin4t0r under Creative Commons license.

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