After setting its sights on a $100 million IPO, CAR-T player Allogene Therapeutics has nearly tripled that, pricing the deal at the high end of the range and raising $288 million. Its stock price leaped as high as 39% on its first day of trading.
The company started out in April with a whopping $300 million series A round and a suite of allogeneic CAR-T assets developed at Cellectis. One might have expected a biotech with that much runway to coast for a little bit, but that’s the last thing that cofounders Arie Belldegrun and David Chang did. In September, they went on to close a $120 million private round and file for Allogene’s IPO.
Along the way, Belldegrun and Chang—the former Kite executives who created one of the first CAR-T treatments—recruited Eric Schmidt, the longtime Cowen analyst, as their chief financial officer.
When asked about the whirlwind that has been the past six months, Schmidt said: “I think we at Allogene have been very fortunate to have inherited … assets that make for an exciting story … in an exciting area of therapeutic development in the CAR-T space. We have on our side Arie Belldegrun and David Chang; those are guys who have been here before, know the business, know the landscape and know the people … I don’t think there are too many teams that can claim to have the experience that we have.”
The company is hoping to “follow in the footsteps of folks like Kite, Juno and Novartis,” the companies that paved the way for CAR-T with autologous treatments, Schmidt said. These therapies are made from a patient’s own T cells, so manufacturing can be complex and time-consuming. Allogeneic ones use donor T cells, which can be stored and used off the shelf.
If Allogene can pull it off, Schmidt said, the allogeneic approach could “be disruptive to the landscape.”
Allogene’s lead asset UCART19, is a CD19-targeting CAR-T treatment that is currently in phase 1 trials in children and adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Allogene plans to move it into registrational trials in the second half of next year, according to an SEC filing. It picked UCART19, as well as more than a dozen preclinical CAR-T assets from Pfizer, which had licensed them from Cellectis in 2014 and 2015.
The new raise will also advance a slate of earlier-stage candidates, including ALLO-715, a BCMA-targeting CAR-T for multiple myeloma, ALLO-819, in development for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and ALLO-501, which is structurally identical to UCART19, but is manufactured in a different way. The plan is to submit INDs for ALLO-715 and ALLO-501 in 2019.
While the bulk of Allogene’s focus is on two proven CAR-T antigens—CD19 and BCMA—the company has disclosed three new targets: Flt3, CD70 and DLL3. The company will be going after blood cancers as they’re “a bit lower-risk and probable a little bit easier to crack” than solid tumors, Schmidt said.
“But we do have aspirations of moving into the solid tumor space.”
Finally, tucked into the “Use of Proceeds” section of Allogene’s S-1 was a note that said the IPO funds could be used to in-license or acquire new assets.
“There’s no firm plan to do anything in the near term, to be honest. We think we have all that we need,” Schmidt said. “There’s no need to check a specific box or to collaborate with anyone in particular. But we are humble enough to realize that we are in a fast-paced, complex and competitive environment. Should the team identify something we need to do [in order to] take the field forward, it’s nice to have the cash to do that.”
In Schmidt’s words, Allogene has been “born on second base,” with the cash, assets and talent it has been able to secure. Now all it has to do is put them to work.