Cancer, gene therapy biotechs raise $303M in IPO bonanza

Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, Nightstar Therapeutics and NuCana raised $300 million total in their respective funding rounds.

Three biotech companies focusing on cancer and eye diseases have collectively raised more than $300 million.

Kinase inhibitor biotech Deciphera Pharmaceuticals raised $128 million, at the high-end of the range, with British cancer oncology NuCana, which is working on second-generation chemotherapies for resistant tumors, raising $100 million, and within the range.

Fellow British biotech Nightstar Therapeutics, a gene therapy player working on rare retinal diseases, also got off a $75 million IPO, within the midpoint of the range.

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After a lackluster biotech IPO market in 2016 and a slow start to this year, public offerings for life sciences have started to take off in the second half.

RELATED: Biotech IPO market slowdown—will it continue into 2017?

Deciphera has a pipeline of oral drug candidates that include three clinical-stage and two research-stage programs. Its lead drug candidate, DCC-2618, is designed to stop mutant or amplified KIT and PDGFRα kinases that drive cancers such as gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GIST.

It's currently in phase 1, and at this year’s ASCO Deciphera posted data showing that in GIST patients shown to harbor a broad range of KIT and PDGFRα mutations, it saw a disease control rate of 85% at eight weeks in 27 patients, 78% at 12 weeks in 23 patients and 60% at 24 weeks in 15 patients.

The biotech is also working on small molecule drug candidates, DCC-3014 and rebastinib, as immuno-oncology kinase, or immunokinase, switch control inhibitors targeting colony stimulating factor receptor 1, or CSF1R, and the TIE2 kinase, respectively.

Back in June, Deciphera raised $52 million in a series C, building on the $75 million it raised in 2015 during its series B round. Its largest stakeholder had been Brightstar Associates, which owned nearly 68% of the company.

At the time of its B round, its pipeline was led by altiratinib, which acts on the MET/TIE2/VEGFR2 pathways, but that asset no longer appears in the company's R&D pipeline and seems to have been canned.

Edinburgh, U.K.-based NuCana, meanwhile, had been seeking a top $115 million IPO, but got a little less at $100 million.

The cash boost should still be enough to help fund late-phase trials of NuCana’s reformulated cancer candidates, including a version of Eli Lilly’s Gemzar it hopes will supplant the veteran chemotherapy in some indications.

The biotech has built its pipeline upon the same phosphoramidate chemistry approach that underpins Gilead’s hepatitis C blockbuster Sovaldi.

NuCana has used the approach to add a phosphate group protected by groupings of aryl, ester and amino acids to existing drugs. In doing so, NuCana thinks it has created drugs free from the membrane transport, activation and breakdown issues that render cancers resistant to the products they are based on.

The company was down to the last $16 million of its $57 million series B by the end of June, meaning this IPO was a key financial driver for its future, as it eyes later stage tests across a broad range of tumors.

And finally Nightstar, which had filed for an $86 million IPO and managed $75 million, will equip the biotech to complete a phase 3 trial of its choroideremia gene therapy and advance two other eye disease candidates through early-stage clinical studies.

London-based Nightstar, also known as NightstaRx, is set to move the choroideremia asset into phase 3 in the first half of next year. The therapy, NSR-REP1, is advancing into the 140-patient trial on the strength of data on 32 subjects treated in investigator-sponsored studies. Those trials found 90% of patients either maintained or improved their visual acuity in the year after receiving the gene therapy.

The biotech was originally spun out of the University of Oxford in 2014, starting life with a £12 million raise from Syncona.

It pulled in a further £5 million when it named former Johnson & Johnson VP David Fellows as CEO early in 2015, with a $35 million series B round following later that year. And Nightstar broadened its investor base and raised a further $45 million in a series C round just a few months ago.

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