Erytech seeks $100M IPO for pivotal tumor starvation trial

River in Lyon
Lyon, France (x-oph/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Erytech Pharma has filed to raise up to $100 million (€85 million) in a Nasdaq IPO to fund a phase 3 pancreatic cancer trial. The filing positions one of 2017’s star performers on European exchanges to start trading in the U.S. 

Lyon, France-based Erytech wants the money to develop eryaspase, a drug made up of the enzyme L-asparaginase encapsulated in red blood cells. L-asparaginase has been used for decades to treat cancer by limiting the availability of a nutrient vital to tumor growth, the amino acid asparagine. Yet, while this approach kills tumors, it also unleashes adverse events that have limited the use of the enzyme.

Erytech thinks it has diminished these toxicity concerns and lengthened the activity of the enzyme by encapsulating it inside red blood cells. Asparagine is broken down inside the red blood cells, protecting the enzyme from antibodies that could deaden its activity and trigger allergic reactions.

Interest in Erytech ratcheted up again in March when it posted phase 2b data showing eryaspase, also known as Graspa, improves overall survival in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. The data suggested Eryrtech’s encapsulation of L-asparaginase will open the door to use beyond acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the indication in which the free-form version of the enzyme is best established. Erytech is up more than 75% this year on the strength of the data.

A pivotal trial of eryaspase in pancreatic cancer in the U.S. and Europe is top of Erytech’s post-IPO spending plans. Erytech met with the FDA at the start of the month, setting it on a path it expects to lead to the initiation of a phase 3 trial in the third quarter of next year. Internally, Erytech was kicking around the idea of making the phase 3 a first-line trial. But that idea has now fallen by the wayside. The phase 3, like the phase 2b, will test eryaspase in a second-line setting.

RELATED: Erytech mulls first-line use for pivotal pancreatic cancer trial

The success of eryaspase in pancreatic cancer has helped Erytech bounce back from travails in the first indication to trigger a rally in its stock price. Erytech filed for approval of eryaspase in ALL in Europe more than two years ago. But the biotech pulled the filing in November after European regulators asked questions it was unable to answer within the allotted time. Erytech plans to refile this month.

Erytech first formally indicated its interest in a Nasdaq IPO through a French regulatory filing more than a year before the ALL submission hit the rocks. But the slowdown of the IPO market in the back half of 2015 and subsequent regulatory setbacks prevented Erytech from pulling the trigger. Instead, Erytech opted to use its European listing to sell to U.S. investors, resulting in Baker Bros. building a 15% stake. 

Now, with its stock riding high once again and the IPO window reopening, Erytech has made its move.