Foghorn blows its klaxon, gunning for a $100M IPO hot on the heels of its Merck deal

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Preclinical biotech Foghorn Therapeutics is aiming for a $100 million IPO, but don’t be surprised it if goes the way of many other biotech listings and shoots far north of that.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech launched in March 2018 to develop drugs for cancer as well as other serious diseases based on insights into the chromatin regulatory system.

Out of this has come the "gene traffic control" platform, which enticed Merck into a $425 million deal in the summer to discover and develop new meds against a transcription factor target “believed to be relevant to a broad range of cancer patients.”

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Foghorn likens chromatin regulation, which directs gene expression in cells, to air traffic control: “Just as airports need an air traffic control system to direct which planes move and when, where, and in what order, our bodies need a system to control which genes our cells express, and when, where, in what order, and what quantity.”

A breakdown in chromatin regulation is a “major, unexplored cause” of many diseases, including more than 20% of cancers, the company said. It was first launched by life science VC shop Flagship Pioneering.

While still in the early stages, new research is shining a light on how this system might work.

In a study published in the journal Science Advances earlier this year, a Northwestern University team pinpointed the role of chromatin, which is the DNA, RNA and proteins that make up the chromosome. They reported that the way chromatin is packed in the nucleus can cause diverse DNA transcriptional features among cells and control how they respond to stress.

Cancer cells with disordered packing are more likely to adapt to treatments, they reported. The researchers believe targeting chromatin could inhibit cancer cells' ability to adjust and therefore help boost responses to traditional therapies.

According to its Securities and Exchange Commission filing, its furthest along assets are FHD-286, a selective allosteric ATPase inhibitor, and FHD-609, a protein degrader, which are being tapped for blood cancers and solid tumors.

“Our approach is to identify and drug genetically determined dependencies within the chromatin regulatory system,” it said in its filing. “Our initial focus is in cancer with a precision oncology approach. Every program we pursue is based on a genetic dependency on the chromatin regulatory system.”

Foghorn plans to file investigational new drug applications for FHD-286 and FHD-609 in the fourth quarter and first half of next year. The biotech is plotting to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol "FHTX."

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