CERo to 60: Engineered T-cell biotech catches SPAC train to reach Wall Street

CERo Therapeutics is still months away from the clinic but in the meantime is taking a detour to Wall Street via a SPAC deal.

The biotech is flying public with Phoenix Biotech Acquisition Corp., in a deal that values CERo’s pre-money equity at $50 million and a combined company capitalization of $145 million. CERo would receive $13.7 million held in a trust, enough to fund the company’s lead asset to “early clinical data” in blood cancers. CERo said Monday that it expects to raise additional money with a private placement. 

CERo CEO Daniel Corey, M.D., will become chief technology officer of the merged company with Phoenix chairman Brian Atwood taking the CEO role. Phoenix CEO Chris Ehrlich will serve as chief financial officer. 

That lead asset—CER-1236—is still months away from the clinic, expected to launch into a phase 1 trial in 2024 for blood cancers. It’s also in pre-clinical development for solid tumors. CERo jumped onto the scene in March 2020 with $40 million in series A funds and a research collaboration with Lyell Immunopharma. That work has now concluded, Corey confirmed to Fierce Biotech in a statement. 

CERo is looking to engineer T-cells that can bolster a patients’ immune system, like other kinds of cell therapy. But instead of the more popular chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, CERo is taking aim at the chimeric engulfment receptor to trigger engineered cells’ ability to recognize the “eat me” signal on tumor cells. The company has not disclosed any additional assets beyond CER-1236. 

The deal comes amid a slight renaissance for special purpose acquisition corps (SPACs) after they were all but left for dead in 2022 during biotech’s industry-wide downturn. Last week, Anew announced a SPAC deal to help fund its Alzheimer’s treatment and fellow gene therapy biotech enGene did the same a couple of weeks prior. But in a sign of how treacherous the path has been for others, Greenlight Biosciences recently announced plans to leave Wall Street less than two years after merging with a SPAC.