Merus pulls forward target date for solid tumor data, reiterates intent to file IPO

Merus has shaved months off the date on which it expects to release data from a Phase I/II trial of its lead bispecific antibody in HER2-expressing solid tumors. The Dutch immuno-oncology player, which lists Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Novartis ($NVS) and Pfizer ($PFE) among its investors, provided the new timeline in an update to the paperwork it filed ahead of a planned Nasdaq IPO.

Merus CEO Ton Logtenberg

Utrecht, the Netherlands-based Merus formalized its plans to go public in the U.S. back in October, since when Wall Street sentiment toward biotech stocks in general has soured. Faced with turbulent markets, Merus is sticking to its plan to list on Nasdaq, although it has yet to nail down a price for the offering three months after it filed its initial paperwork. Against this challenging backdrop, Merus has kept its clinical development programs rattling along, putting it in a position to advance the date on which it expects to share top-line data from a Phase I/II trial of its lead candidate, MCLA-128.

In October, Merus was priming investors to expect data in the first half of 2017. Now, the data are due before the end of the year. While the public will have to wait until then to get a close look at the data, Merus is continuing to update its IPO paperwork with broad details of how the participants are responding to the treatment. At the last count, Merus had identified an "objective" positive effect in 9 of 22 evaluable participants during the early stages of dose escalation. Back in October, the company said 9 of 16 evaluable patients had shown "measurable" positive effects early in dose escalation.

Of the 8 patients who were free from disease progression after two cycles of treatment, 6 have now seen their cancer advance, compared to three as of October. The longer-term data shows some patients are responding well, though, with two people still having stable disease after four rounds of treatment. Merus is developing MCLA-128 as a treatment for breast, colorectal and ovarian cancer, although it may expand its ambitions to cover other solid tumors depending on the data generated through its R&D program.

Whether Merus can persuade public investors to bankroll its ambitions remains to be seen. When Merus first filed its IPO papers, it set a proposed fundraising target of $60 million (€55 million) for the purpose of calculating its fees. The latest version of the text lacks any targets. Having wrapped up a €72.8 million Series C round in August, Merus has some cash to play with but its plans are still reliant on a further injection of funds, something the proposed IPO is intended to deliver.

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