Friday, March 09, 2012

Financings of the Fortnight Puts On The Weight

Was FOTF the only one to notice that anti-obesity drug maker Vivus aced its FDA advisory committee review on Feb. 22, one day after Mardi Gras?

It didn't take long for the company to digest the impact: one week later, it went to the public markets for a stock sale, which we describe below. And Vivus' two main competitors, both of whom have had the FDA send their dishes back to the kitchen at one time or another, saw action as well. Arena Therapeutics spiked briefly to $2.11 a share on Feb. 23 with about 8 times its typical trading volume, only to drop back down under $2. The firm also triggered a sale of 14.4 million shares to Azimuth Opportunity that netted nearly $25 million; not exactly selling high. It's part of a $50 million line of credit opened last November that lets Arena put a sale of stock to Azimuth at a pre-arranged discount.

Arena is next up at FDA, with an advisory committee hearing scheduled in the second quarter, but by then Vivus could know its fate, with a PDUFA date of April 17. Orexigen Therapeutics' shares have traded as high as $4.37 a piece since the good Vivus news, their highest in about a year. So far Orexigen hasn't made any related financing moves, but it did announce Thursday that it would slim down at its San Diego-area headquarters.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a new fat-fighting drug finally reaching the market has generated takeover talk as breathless as Dom DeLuise trying to run up a flight of stairs. Potential buyers might want to wait to see if FDA requires a pre-marketing cardiovascular outcome study. Our Pink Sheet colleagues noted recently that the advisory committee seemed satisfied with the prospect of a post-marketing study, but as we all know, it's not unusual to see a gap between the ad-com opinions and final FDA rulings. An overview of cardiovascular assessments by the Endocrinologic and Metabolics Drugs Advisory Committee in late March could shine more light on what extra clinical hoops the three drugs -- Vivus' Qnexa, Arena's Lorquess and Orexigen's Contrave -- will have to pass through.

If any of those drugs actually work, perhaps we'll pay more attention to what Shakespeare called the food of love than the love of food. Which brings us to our off-topic financing of the fortnight: our favorite pending IPO is Fender Musical Instruments Corp., which wants to go public after 65 years of shredding, twanging, picking and reverberating. We wouldn't care if those shares were a good investment as long as owning them made us sound, at least in our mind, just a little bit like this guy. Or perhaps more appropriately, The Ventures. This is, after all...

Vivus: Following the old adage to strike while the FDA is hot, Vivus parlayed the green light an FDA advisory committee gave its Qnexa (topiramate/phentermine) weight-loss drug into a $202 million public offering on Feb. 29. The San Francisco Bay Area company sold 9 million shares at $22.50 a piece, and underwriters led by J.P. Morgan could sell up to 1.35 million more. The funds will go in part to build a sales force for Qnexa, which has navigated a tortured path to date. It received strong backing last month from the FDA's Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee, a 20-2 vote, in part because panelists were assured that Vivus would be held accountable if it didn't conduct a post-marketing cardiovascular outcomes study. The near-unanimous vote more than doubled the price of Vivus shares, from $10.55 on Feb. 22 to a high of $25.14 on Feb. 27. It closed March 6 at $21.52. Rejected by the FDA in 2010, Vivus resubmitted its marketing application last October with a curtailed patient population, excluding women under 55 to eliminate the chance of the topiramate component of the drug causing birth defects. If approved, Qnexa  initially will be indicated for obese patients with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 or overweight patients with a BMI over 27 who do not have child-bearing potential, and who have at least one comorbidity such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or abdominal obesity. Qnexa's PDUFA date is April 17. -- Staff reports

Aragon Pharmaceuticals: After mulling an IPO and a partnership, cancer drug maker Aragon Pharmaceuticals opted for door number three: a $42 million Series C round that CEO Richard Heyman said strengthens the company if it eventually chooses to pursue either of the first two. The Topspin Fund, the personal investment vehicle of a small group of high-net-worth individuals including billionaire hedge fund manager Jim Simons, led the round, investing alongside existing backers Aisling Capital, OrbiMed Advisors and The Column Group. Along with former Honeywell executives Leo Guthart and Steve Winick, Simons also manages $213 million fund Topspin Partners, but the three chose to invest in their sidecar fund instead; Guthart said the primary fund is “fully invested.” There are personal connections behind the scenes: Simons also is an investor in OrbiMed's funds and Guthart is treasurer of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Aragon co-founder Charles Sawyers is on the board of trustees. Aragon intends to complete Phase II work on ARN-509, a candidate for castration-resistant prostate cancer that eventually could compete with Johnson & Johnson’s Zytiga (abiraterone) for the sub-market of men in whom prior treatments have failed. It also intends to bring a selective estrogen receptor degrader into Phase I for breast cancer. If Aragon aims for an IPO, it hopes Topspin's experience investing in public companies could lead the firm to cross over and take a piece. Having insiders take part in an IPO has practically become a prerequisite for going public these days. -- Paul Bonanos

4s3 Bioscience: An investment firm connected to one of the world’s wealthiest families has supplied a $20 million Series A round to 4s3 Bioscience, a start-up investigating new treatments for rare muscular disorders. KLP Enterprises, a trust managed by the family office of Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock, made the investment. The Pritzker family’s legacy includes ownership of the Hyatt hotel chain, electric and industrial equipment holding company Marmon Group, and credit bureau TransUnion. KLP’s investment builds on a seed round from Genzyme Ventures in 2008, as well as grant funding from Massachusetts Life Science Center, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Institute of Health and the HHS Therapeutic Discovery Project. 4s3 is developing drugs that use an antibody technology to deliver muscle-building proteins and enzymes into cells, which could yield treatments for muscular dystrophy and other disorders affecting skeletal muscle. The start-up is housed at the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Venture Development Center, and its founders are working closely with KLP drug development subsidiary Alopexx Enterprises as they build the company. -- P.B.

Amicus Therapeutics: The developer of treatments for lysosomal storage disorders and other rare diseases topped off its public stock offering March 7 with underwriters taking their full over-allotment, making a total of 11.5 million shares sold at $5.70 a share for net proceeds of $62 million. The firm, whose tale was told in the film Extraordinary Measures (with Brendan Fraser playing CEO John Crowley), last raised cash when it sold worldwide rights to its lead drug Amigal (migalastat HCI), for Fabry disease, to GlaxoSmithKline for $60 million upfront in October 2010. Part of that payment bought GSK a 19.9% equity stake in Amicus at $4.56 a share, at the time a 15% premium. Announcing the GSK deal, Crowley said it would sustain Amicus at least until U.S. approval of Amigal, which has not proved out. The drug is currently in Phase III in a monotherapy trial co-sponsored by Amicus and GSK and in a separate combination therapy trial that is still recruiting patients. -- A.L.

This fortnight's column powered by Mavis Staples.

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