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Graphite Bio leads this week’s IPO squad, looking to turn the tide on sickle cell disease with gene editing

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Biotech’s IPO march continued earlier…



Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

Biotech’s IPO march continued earlier this week with Monte Rosa pricing on Thursday, and now Friday’s bunch heads to Nasdaq led by gene editing player Graphite Bio.

Located in South San Francisco, Graphite is going public Friday on the heels of a $238 million raise less than 10 months after getting started with a Series A. It’s been a rapid ascent, CEO Josh Lehrer told Endpoints News, but he feels the company is now at the point where it can focus both on drug development and further building out its platform.

On the surface, Graphite is using a familiar tool to tackle genetic diseases with its CRISPR/Cas9 technology. But it’s taking a different approach in trying to cure patients, and hoping a lead sickle cell disease program can prove validating for other candidates.

In sickle cell disease, patients have two copies of a defective gene. If individuals only have one defective copy, their hemoglobin are essentially normal, but they still carry sickle cell trait and can pass down the defective gene to children. Graphite’s goal, Lehrer says, is to alter “at least one” of a SCD patient’s genes so they instead express sickle cell trait.

“At the DNA level we’re making stem cells normal again,” Lehrer said. “Initial approaches [in sickle cell] rely on adding new genes with an antiviral approach, knocking out genes … the reason they’re taking so long is because the knock out rate with CRISPR is so low, it’s about 1%. We’ve corrected 70% of mutations in our models.”

Graphite is looking to enroll 15 adults in the first trial, which it hopes to launch by the end of the year. Data would likely then come at the end of 2022, Lehrer said.

According to the biotech’s S-1, Graphite plans to spend about $90 million of its IPO funds on this Phase I/II trial, with another $40 million going to push through IND studies for each of their other two programs in X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency and Gaucher disease. An additional $80 million is to be earmarked for other preclinical candidates.

Lehrer himself will take home a 2.3% stake in the company once the offering is complete but the big winner is Versant, which will control almost 30% of the biotech. Matthew Porteus, the former CRISPR Therapeutics academic founder who invented Graphite’s platform, also will own 6.5% of shares after the IPO. Samsara BioCapital is the last major shareholder with a 12.7% stake.

Graphite has set a launch price of $17 per share and will trade under the ticker $GRPH.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope, it’s toad venom

Irish psychedelic player GH Research is hopping its way to Nasdaq with a $160 million raise, taking its “toad venom” therapies to the public market.

Little was known about the biotech until April, when RA Capital led a $125 million crossover in the latest psychedelics wager. It’s working on an inhaled version of the psychedelic colloquially known as “toad venom” but with the full scientific name 5-Methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine, of DMT.

The compound picked up the amphibious nickname due to its presence in a certain toad species native to the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico. It can also be derived from plants or made synthetically, with the plant version used as an entheogen in some parts of Central and South America.

Per a 2018 VICE News report, toad venom saw a rapid rise in recreational use in the mid-2010s as individuals attempted to achieve the ‘ego death’ phenomenon, in which researchers believe the part of the brain responsible for one’s sense of self shuts down temporarily. The biotech is starting with treatment-resistant depression for the inhaled formulation, currently being studied in the Phase II portion of a Phase I/II clinical trial.

About $110 million of the IPO funds will go toward the inhaled program, with another $10 million slated for an injectable program, per the F-1. GH is also setting aside $65 million for the “technical development” of active ingredients and related devices used for administration of the drug.

Florian Schönharting, the company’s co-founder and chairman, owns the largest stake at 30.8% post-offering, followed by BVF Partners’ 17.7% and CEO Theis Terwey’s 13.1%. RA Capital is not listed among the biotech’s principal shareholders, but they hold a non-voting board seat. GH is launching at $16 per share and will trade under the ticker $GHRS.

Aisling-backed biotech looks to Elevate former Merrimack flop

Elevation Oncology has locked down $100 million to continue efforts of repurposing an old Merrimack program to treat solid tumors with the rare NRG1 genomic fusion.

Shawn Leland

The candidate, known as seribantumab, had previously flopped in NSCLC. It’s a monoclonal antibody that binds to HER3 and was one in a long string of clinical busts for Merrimack, ultimately resulting in the biotech selling several assets and laying off all its staff and executives.

But Elevation acquired the compound for $58 million back in 2019 and is now looking for a potential accelerated approval in the NRG1 space. The biotech launched in July 2020 and quickly added a $65 million Series B round to complete enrollment in a Phase II study, which is where most of the IPO funds will be steered.

Steve Elms, chairman of Elevation’s board and managing partner at Aisling Capital, has the biggest stake. Once all the IPO shares are sold, he’ll own an 11.6% stake in the company. Meanwhile, CEO Shawn Leland gets a 2.9% stake for his efforts. Other stakeholders with significant stakes include Qiming and Vertex Ventures at 9% each, Cormorant and venBio at 8.7% each, BVF at 5% and Boxer Capital at 4.1%.

Elevation has set its launch price at $16 per share and will trade under the ticker $ELEV.

Alpha Teknova and Acurx chart their Nasdaq paths

Two smaller companies round out biotech’s IPO march this week in Alpha Teknova and Acurx Pharmaceuticals.

The former is a reagents company launched in 2000, and it says it has about 3,000 customers spanning the entire life sciences market, including biotechs, larger pharma companies and CROs. Alpha Teknova launched its IPO at $16 per share and raised an upsized $96 million to kick off its public efforts.

Acurx, meanwhile, raised a much more modest $15 million and priced at $6. The Staten Island, NY-based biotech is working on a slate of antibiotics that look to block the DNA polymerase IIIC enzyme. It’s expected to begin a Phase IIb trial for lead candidate ibezapolstat this year in patients with C. difficile infections.

Alpha Teknova will trade under the ticker $TKNO while Acurx filed under $ACXP.

Perceptive is back in SPAC mode

Friday also saw a new life sciences SPAC enter the fray as well, as Perceptive Advisors announced it’s once again getting back into the game.

Joseph Edelman

Perceptive is launching its fifth blank-check company and has penciled in $130 million for its initial estimate. Dubbed ARYA Sciences Acquisition V, the company comes after Perceptive priced its fourth SPAC back in February.

Three of the firm’s previous efforts have since merged with biotechs looking to take a quick hop to the public domain. The first took Immatics Biotechnologies public last July, the second pushed Cerevel Therapeutics to Nasdaq in October and the third completed its merger with Nautilus Biotechnology earlier this month.

The new SPAC’s total is expected to match the same amount of funds listed for the fourth SPAC, which is still looking for a reverse-merger partner. Run by Perceptive partner Joseph Edelman, SPAC number 5 will trade under the ticker $ARYE.

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