Bellicum plots a $115M IPO to cut in on the CAR-T race

Houston biotech Bellicum Pharmaceuticals is angling to raise $115 million in an IPO, funds that would help it accelerate its work in the high-profile field of cancer immunotherapy.

The company is yet to disclose how many shares it intends to offer or at what price, disclosing only that it plans to trade on the Nasdaq under "BLCM." Bellicum is earmarking the lion's share of its potential proceeds for BPX-501, a Phase I/II T cell therapy designed to ward off graft versus host disease in patients undergoing stem cell transplants. Behind that, the biotech plans to get three cancer immunotherapies into clinical trials, also planning to bankroll a Phase I/II study for BPX-201, its dendritic cancer vaccine.

Bellicum's preclinical immuno-oncology pipeline includes BPX-401, which uses targeting mechanisms called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to train T cells to bind to the CD19 antigen, expressed by hematological cancer cells. Following that is BPX-601, a CAR-T candidate that targets solid tumors, and BPX-701, an immunotherapy for skin cancers. The biotech has plans to to submit rolling NDA filings for each, starting in the second half of next year and continuing into 2016.

The past year has seen widespread excitement over the potential of CAR-T therapies and the similar T-cell receptor (TCR) technology, as companies like Novartis ($NVS) and Juno Therapeutics have reported stellar early clinical data. But the advances are not without their risks, including the threat of cytokine release syndrome, which has proved fatal in immunotherapy trials, leading researchers to amend recruitment criteria and curtail dosing.

That's where Bellicum believes it can stand out. The company's take on CAR-Ts includes a "safety switch" derived from BPX-501 and its ability to mute unwanted transplant reactions, potentially reducing the risk of adverse events.

Bellicum's IPO pitch comes a few months after the company closed a $55 million C round, adding the likes of RA Capital Management and Perceptive Advisors to a syndicate that includes AVG Ventures and Remeditex Ventures. The biotech has raised $107 million in total.

Meanwhile, the cheers-and-jeers reception for biotech IPOs continues. More than 70 drug developers have gone public in 2014, but the frothy valuations of the early year have long since subsided, leaving many market entrants to either accept painful discounts to their planned prices or put off their offerings altogether.

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