Oncternal grows by merger again, this time swallowing GTx

Jigsaw pieces
In 2016 Oncternal merged with Tokalas. (Pixabay/Alexas_Fotos)

Three years ago, Oncternal Therapeutics merged with Tokalas to combine their cancer pipelines into one group. Now, its planning a repeat move with GTx that will also give it a shortcut to public listing.

The merged group would combine all assets, R&D programs and operations under the Oncternal name, with GTx’s ticker symbol GTXI swapping to ONCT if the deal goes through.

The deal could be described as opportunistic, coming after GTx was hit hard last year by the failure of its lead candidate enobosarm, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), in a phase 2 stress urinary incontinence trial—having earlier abandoned a breast cancer program for the drug.

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That left GTx with a preclinical program in prostate cancer, around $38 million in cash (as of last September), and a substantially reduced burn rate. Shortly afterwards, GTx confirmed it was looking for “other strategic options.”

Oncternal says the combined company would have cash of around $26 million if the merger closes, which would be enough to fund its pipeline into the middle of next year.

By absorbing GTx, Oncternal adds its selective androgen receptor degrader (SARD) program in castration-resistant prostate cancer, still in mechanistic studies, to its own cancer pipeline headed by cirmtuzumab, a first-in-class anti-ROR1 monoclonal antibody currently in phase 1/2 testing.

The drug is being evaluated alongside AbbVie/Janssen’s blockbuster BTK inhibitor Imbruvica (ibrutinib) for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL).

Following after is TK216, an inhibitor of ETS-family transcription factor oncoproteins being tested alone and in combination with vincristine in a phase 1 trial in relapsed or refractory Ewing sarcoma, and a ROR-1 targeted CAR-T program in preclinical development at UC San Diego for hematologic and solid tumors.

Oncternal’s current CEO, oncologist James Breitmeyer, M.D., Ph.D., will retain that position in the combined company, and that also applies to chief financial officer Richard Vincent and chief operating officer Lauren Otsuki, according to an SEC filing.

No GTx employee is expected to remain an employee of the combined company, says Oncternal, although two GTx board members—current Chairman Robert Wills, Ph.D., and Michael Carter, M.D.—will become directors of the new company.

“This merger introduces Oncternal and its promising oncology pipeline to the public market and provides additional capital resources to advance our programs to potential value inflection points,” said Breitmeyer.

Under the terms of the deal, GTx shareholders have certain contingent value rights (CVR) entitling them to a share in the proceeds if an SARD drug reaches the market.

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