Crossover round, check. New team of biopharma execs, check. Now, Imara wants an IPO

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Imara is looking to cap a good 2019 with an initial public offering in 2020. The rare disease biotech wants $86 million on the Nasdaq composite.

Massachusetts-based Imara emerged from orphan drug accelerator Cydan in 2016 with $31 million in series A funding and a small molecule licensed from Lundbeck.

The drug, IMR-687, is designed to block PDE9 activity, thereby increasing cGMP and fetal globin while reducing the sickling and adhesion of red and white blood cells, respectively. These effects could reduce the blockage of blood vessels in sickle cell patients.

Hydroxyurea, an approved medicine, has similar effects on sickle cell disease but also causes severe side effects, including bone marrow suppression and infertility. By proposing a way to improve on the risk-benefit profile of hydroxyurea, Imara attracted investment from backers including New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Pfizer Venture Investments to support its advance into clinical trials.

Three years later, in March 2019, Imara grew its investor syndicate ahead of its now attempted IPO. OrbiMed Advisors and Arix Bioscience co-led the $64 million series B nearly a year ago with the support of new and existing investors, including NEA and Pfizer.

The round positioned Imara to advance and expand its clinical development activities. At that point, Imara had taken IMR-687 through a study in healthy volunteers and into an ongoing phase 2 that is looking at its safety, pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in 54 adults with sickle cell anemia.

The drug was later given an FDA fast-track tag, and, in the summer of last year, early, interim data published for IMR-687 aimed at safety and tolerability showed for 27 patients that it was “generally well tolerated, with no clinically significant changes in white blood cell counts and no evidence of neutropenia,” the company said.  

Only a few days after its series C round, the biotech also nabbed Pfizer’s former clinical rare disease lead Willem Scheele, M.D., as its new chief medical officer. This was a big get for the small biotech, given where Scheele came from: At Pfizer, he had been the U.S. giant’s executive director and clinician group lead of its rare diseases unit. His tenure stretches back to his time at Wyeth, which was bought out by Pfizer more than a decade ago.

A week ago, it also hired former Flexion exec Joelle Lufkin as its senior vice president of development, coming off the back of a mini hiring spree across a bunch of positions last August.

Though a rare disease biotech, it will have competition: In November 2019, the FDA approved Oxbryta (voxelotor) and Adakveo (crizanlizumab) for the treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD), which “are important milestones for patients with SCD as previously approved therapies for SCD all have significant limitations, including safety concerns, complex dosing regimens, variable response rates and potential adverse effects from long term use,” it said in its SEC-1 filing.

But the company added: “We believe that IMR-687’s differentiated mechanism of action that seeks to increase HbF in patients with SCD, and the association between increases in HbF and reductions in disease risk, have the potential to provide IMR-687, if approved, with competitive advantages over Oxbryta, where the correlation between increases in hemoglobin and disease risk is being tested in a post-approval confirmatory trial, and Adakveo, which is administered intravenously and does not target RBC sickling.”

The biotech plans to list on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol "IMRA."

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