Connect with us


Playboy, digital health, electric vehicles and now cancer drugs: A mountainous SPAC journey

A prolific SPAC creator has found a business partner for its fifth blank check company with just four weeks to go before a business combination deadline….



A prolific SPAC creator has found a business partner for its fifth blank check company with just four weeks to go before a business combination deadline. Its partner had only disclosed a modest $27 million Series A last October as it plans to go after similar targets as Bayer and Roche.

The name of the SPAC operator might not be familiar but its first partner likely is: Playboy. Then, prescription digital therapeutics startup Better Therapeutics. Third in line: digital healthcare company ETAO, which had its valuation slashed from $2.5 billion to $1 billion during the SPAC process. In May, a China-based electric vehicle maker signed up.

Now, it’s AUM Biosciences’ turn. The clinical-stage Singapore-based cancer biotech — with offices in Bethesda, MD; Collingwood, Australia; and Suzhou, China — makes the move just days after another life sciences SPAC threw in the towel and as a second struck a deal.

The blank check route has been a bumpy ride in the past year, following a pandemic boon for the quicker-to-Wall Street vehicle than the traditional listing, but multiple deals in the drug development world have been revealed in recent weeks. Some biotechs have completely reneged on combination plans.

With the planned entry onto Nasdaq as AUMB, the startup will gain $69 million from the deal with Mountain Crest Acquisition Corp. V. But AUM will likely face an uphill battle as have so many life sciences companies and those in other industries following a SPAC merger. Better Therapeutics is a shell of the $10 at which its public journey began. So is Playboy, er, PLBY Group.

AUM will have a pre-money valuation of $400 million, and the financing will help beef up US operations and clinical work, the company said.

According to a federal trials database, AUM was slated to kick off a Phase II last week testing its lead drug, AUM001, as a monotherapy and in combination with Merck’s Keytruda in metastatic colorectal cancer. Another combination study of the MNK inhibitor, paired up with Roche’s Tecentriq, is also planned for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and urothelial cancer.

Also in the MNK space is eFFECTOR Therapeutics, with tomivosertib in mid-stage studies, also combined with Keytruda. That program ran into a hurdle at the beginning of this year, months after eFFECTOR went public via its own SPAC deal.

Further down in the pipeline are AUM601 and AUM302. The first is “on track to enter Phase 2,” AUM said Thursday, noting it’s targeting TRK mutations. The latter is a macrocyclic oral kinase inhibitor small molecule that the biotech claims will combine inhibition of pan-PIM kinase, pan-PI3K and mTOR all in one.

The TRK inhibitor comes from Handok and CMG Pharmaceutical, under undisclosed terms and for worldwide rights, save for Korea. TRK is familiar among Big Pharma: Bayer’s Vitrakvi (via Loxo Oncology) blocks the protein, and Roche’s Rozlytrek also goes after TRK.

AUM is also about to enter year three of a five-year tie-up with Newsoara Biopharma, in which the latter gains Greater China rights to co-develop up to six oncology drugs, including ‘001 and ‘302.

Suying Liu

As for the SPAC operator, Mountain Crest has little biotech experience on its board. The chair, Suying Liu, was on the business faculty at Washington University in St. Louis and then held stints across JP Morgan and other firms, mainly focused on real estate. Also on the board is Liu’s fellow Wash U colleague Todd Milbourn; Azia Capital Fund partner Wenhua Zhang; and oil & gas executive Nelson Haight.

In a Nasdaq video posted last December, Liu talks about his SPAC partners’ strategy of rolling up additional companies post-merger. Time will tell if AUM finds more biotechs to bring into the fold.

AUM CEO Vishal Doshi said in prepared remarks that the company is on track to hit multiple milestones in the next two years. Liu touted the deal will give AUM a “greater US footprint.”

Expect a transaction closing in the first three months of 2023.

Read More