Argos swings for a $60M IPO in the shadow of Dendreon's struggles

North Carolina's Argos Therapeutics believes it can succeed where Dendreon ($DNDN) has faltered, pitching a $60 million IPO that would help the biotech get its personalized cancer therapy through Phase III.

Argos is raising cash to complete a late-stage study for its lead candidate, AGS-003, planning to chart the drug's effect on overall survival in metastatic renal cell carcinoma when paired with Pfizer's ($PFE) sunitinib. The company expects to complete enrollment next year, and, in Phase II, the combo clocked a median overall survival of 30.2 months, compared to 14.7 months for sunitinib alone.

The company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under "ARGS." Its filing didn't disclose how many shares it would offer or speculate on a price range.

Much like Dendreon's star-crossed Provenge injection, Argos' drug uses a patient's own dendritic cells to fight cancer growth, harvesting white blood cells to craft an immunotherapy and reinjecting it. But unlike its forebear, Argos uses sampled RNA to load the cells with tumor-specific antigens, a process CEO Jeff Abbey said sets his company apart and makes AGS-003 stand out. In addition to improving immune response, Argos' technology "can be produced using an automated centralized manufacturing process at a cost that will be comparable to biologics," the company said.

This year, the company had to turn to some unusual financiers to scrape together the $60 million it needed to fund Phase III, and Abbey told FierceBiotech in August that Provenge's high-profile market flop made things tough for Argos at the fundraising table, adding that "there remains, if not a bias, a skepticism against personalized cell therapy for cancer because of Dendreon."

That skepticism is more than understandable considering Dendreon's ongoing struggles with manufacturing, pricing and competition for Provenge, and sales fell another 13% to just $68 million last quarter. Whether that shadow will dim Argos' chances of cashing in on Wall Street remains to be seen, but the company clearly believes its platform is primed for success.

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