Alpine bags Nivalis, making Gold a public biotech CEO again

Alpine CEO Mitch Gold

Alpine Immune Sciences is set to merge with Nivalis Therapeutics and snag itself a stock listing in the process. The agreement puts Mitch Gold back at the helm of a public biotech for the first time since the downfall of Dendreon precipitated his departure from the company.

Seattle, WA-based Alpine will subsume the flailing Nivalis in an all-stock merger to create a biotech with $90 million in cash and plans to move its lead candidate into the clinic in the second half of next year. The asset and management team that will oversee it comes from Alpine. Nivalis, which has been in limbo since it hunkered down following a phase 2 flop, is contributing just under half of the money and its Nasdaq listing to the combined business.

Gold expects the cash of the combined company, which will take Alpine’s name, to see it through the next three years and enable it to broaden its clinical development plans.

Alpine’s top priority is to select one of several potential lead candidates from its dual ICOS-CD28 antagonist program to move into IND-enabling studies ahead of clinical development in autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. But with the Nivalis merger and related $17 million investment from Frazier Healthcare Partners, Alpine BioVentures and OrbiMed Advisors strengthening its finances, Alpine is also planning to file INDs for two other programs currently being researched by its immuno-oncology and inflammation groups.

The dual focus on cancer and inflammation stems from a platform Alpine sees as being able to generate molecules that either dial up or tamp down the immune system. And, with that breadth exceeding the scope of an early-stage biotech, Gold is hoping to strike deals to push into disease areas outside of Alpine’s core areas of focus.

“Off of a single directed-evolution campaign, we could generate protein structures that are relevant for autoimmune diseases and another set of them that are relevant for immuno-oncology. Because of that, we have to kind of open up this broad platform of molecules that are very actionable from a partnering perspective,” Gold told investors on a conference call. Alpine already has a heavily backloaded $535 million deal with Kite Pharma.

Nivalis decided the Alpine merger represented the best option for its shareholders after reviewing 80 formal proposals and taking the 10 most promising offers through final due diligence. Michael Carruthers, the Nivalis CFO who oversaw the process after the rest of the C-suite left in January, noted the fact Alpine is “already very well capitalized ... unlike many companies that indicated interest in pursuing a strategic transaction with Nivalis” is his explanation of why its offer stood out.

That decision means that, assuming the deal is completed as expected in the third quarter, Gold will be the CEO of a public biotech again, 5 years after he left Dendreon. Gold made his name and a lot of money as the CEO of Dendreon, but things turned sour when Provenge made a slow start to commercial life and investors rounded on management for perceived failings.

Shares in Nivalis rose 21% in after-hours trading.