Pharma giants line up behind an $83M crossover round for IPO-bound Merus

Four months after signaling its interest in filing for a $100M-plus IPO on Nasdaq, Dutch biotech Merus has weighed in with an $83 million round that includes contributions from some familiar crossover investors. And the biotech may soon offer a test case on just how the biotech IPO market will function in the wake of the dizzying ride investors have been on in recent days.

Merus bills itself as an immuno-oncology biotech, looking to leverage some of the immense popularity enjoyed by that field for its pipeline work on bispecific antibody therapeutics. The biotech has only one program in the clinic, the solid tumor candidate MCLA-128 which targets HER2 and HER3. And like others in the antibody field, the company says it has a product platform that has the inside track on creating antibodies that are stable and easily manufactured. A complementary focus at the company looks at spurring an immune response to help fight cancer.

That kind of work has attracted the support of a bevy of Big Pharma players. Novo A/S joined this latest round, which also involved contributions from Novartis Venture Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation--JJDC and Pfizer Venture Investments. Sofinnova Ventures acted as a co-lead with Novo, with RA Capital Healthcare Fund, Rock Springs Capital, Tekla Capital Management and an unnamed U.S.-based life sciences-focused investor coming in to back the IPO-ready biotech. The company's existing investors, including Bay City Capital, LSP Life Sciences Partners and Aglaia Oncology Fund, also participated.

"The proceeds from this financing provide us with funding to advance our key clinical and preclinical programs and to broaden our pipeline of innovative therapeutics that recruit cells of the immune system to kill cancer cells," said Merus CEO Ton Logtenberg in a statement. "This financing follows the progression of Merus into a clinical stage company. Our first lead bispecific antibody, MCLA-128, has commenced phase 1/2 clinical trials as a potential targeted therapy for solid tumors and our second lead bispecific antibody, MCLA-117 for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, is planned to commence clinical trials in the first quarter of 2016."

There's been a range of opinions offered about the IPO market in recent days as signs of trouble in the Chinese economy has triggered an unsettling round of ups and downs in global markets. Crossover investors like the ones behind Merus have helped pump billions of dollars into the global industry in the past two years. A contraction in biotech IPOs, if the current unrest proves more than a temporary correction, would likely drive many of those investors out, leaving the traditional VC players to carry the load.

Merus, though, is still on track, along with biotechs like Syndax. And the industry will follow these new IPO-bound companies particularly closely to see how the global virus infects individual industries.

- here's the release