Enliven Therapeutics, troubled Imara set to merge with Roche-backed $165M fundraise

Enliven Therapeutics and Imara are combining forces to push Enliven’s precision oncology pipeline forward in a new merger deal accompanied by a Roche-backed $165 million fundraise.

Imara’s stock jumped more than 35% since market close yesterday. Prior to the merger news, the biotech had endured a sustained drop in stock after terminating its lead candidate and laying off staff.   

Now, the two companies plan to operate under the name Enliven Therapeutics, bringing Enliven to the Nasdaq under ticker symbol ELVN. The merger, which still must be approved by Imara and Enliven stockholders, is slated to close in the first quarter of 2023.

At close, the combo company is expected to have a cash balance of around $300 million, money that is anticipated to fuel the company through multiple clinical milestones and into early 2026.

In support of the merger, Enliven has also raised $165 million in a private financing round co-led by new investors Fairmount and Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners. All of the Colorado company’s existing investors, including Roche's VC arm, will participate in the oversubscribed funding round, which is set to close right before the merger does.

The new Enliven plans to discover and develop next-gen small molecule kinase inhibitors, including current Enliven’s two lead candidates, ELVN-001 and ELVN-002. The biotech recently launched a phase 1 clinical trial assessing ELVN-001, a small molecule inhibitor designed to treat chronic myeloid leukemia. Enliven also intends to ask the FDA by the end of the year for approval to start in-human trials for ELVN-002, an irreversible HER2 and pan-HER2 mutant kinase inhibitor for HER2 mutant lung cancer and other HER2-driven tumor types.    

Enliven CEO and co-founder Sam Kintz will remain at the helm of the combined company, while Imara CEO Rahul Ballal, Ph.D., is expected to join Enliven’s board of directors.

The proposal follows a series of unfortunate events for Imara. In early April, the Boston biotech pulled the plug on its lead drug, a PDE9 inhibitor called tovinontrine in both sickle cell and beta thalassemia. The discontinuation followed phase 2b trials failings despite a midstudy endpoint change and the use of a higher dose.

Then, a few weeks later, the biotech culled 83% of its workforce—about 33 employees—leaving the company with only six full-time employees standing. Imara’s Chief Medical Officer Kenneth Attie, M.D., was a C-suite casualty of the layoff.

The cutbacks were aimed at significantly reducing operating expenses while the biotech assessed its options, including a potential sale or merger, an Imara spokesperson said at the time.