Foresite's 2nd SPAC deal counts Gilead as an investor in $276M bid for COVID-19 biotech Pardes

Foresite Capital's second special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) has landed on its target: Pardes Biosciences, a biotech working on antiviral treatments for COVID-19, and a high profile Big Pharma is coming along for the ride. 

Pardes will add about $276 million to the bank through the merger, which will help get its lead candidate into the clinic later this year. 

Most of those funds will come from the SPAC itself: FS Development Corp. II raised $175 million in an IPO in February this year. The combined company will raise about $75 million in a private round from backers like Foresite, RA Capital Management, Frazier Life Sciences and Gilead Sciences, the company behind Veklury (remdesivir), the first approved antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

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The deal is slated to close by October and the combined company will list on the Nasdaq under the ticker “PRDS,” according to a statement. 

Besides bankrolling the lead program, PBI-0451, proceeds will also advance Pardes’ discovery-stage programs.

Pardes is developing PBI-0451, an oral antiviral, for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 infection. The drug is designed to block the main protease (Mpro) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This protein is “highly similar” across coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2 variants, SARS and MERS, the company says. 

“The emergence of novel variants of increasing pathogenicity, such as the Delta variant, reinforces the need for new therapies that can be easily and rapidly deployed globally," said Jim Tananbaum, M.D., CEO of Foresite Capital and president and CEO of FS Development II, in the statement.  

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Many other antivirals are under development, including through partnerships between Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, and Novartis and Molecular Partners. 

After phase 2 data showed Merck and Ridgeback’s oral antiviral, molnupiravir, was “unlikely to demonstrate a clinical benefit” in hospitalized patients, the duo ditched plans for a phase 3 study in that population. However, the drug is in a phase 3 study in the outpatient setting, with data expected in September or October. 

As for Novartis and Molecular Partners, they kicked off a global study for their antiviral, ensovibep, in adults with COVID-19 infection confirmed by an antigen test and who experience at least two predetermined mild to moderate symptoms within a week of their diagnosis. 

The companies aim to enroll 400 people for the dose-finding phase 2 part of the trial and 1,700 for the phase 3 portion. They expect the first part of the study to read out in August this year, at which point the partners will move into phase 3. 

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The merger with Pardes is the second SPAC deal for Tananbaum and his team. Their first blank check company, FS Development Corp., went public in August 2020 and acquired eye disease player Gemini Therapeutics in February this year. All told, the deal was worth about $216 million, including funds in the SPAC’s trust account and proceeds from a concurrent private round.