Pliant Therapeutics pulls off $144M IPO to advance fibrosis pipeline

Another day, another IPO. Pliant Therapeutics raised $144 million in its upsized Wall Street debut—a cash infusion that will propel its lead asset through midstage trials in fibrotic liver and lung diseases and support the preclinical development of its earlier-stage programs.

The fibrosis player originally filed to raise $86 million in its IPO last month and doubled its share offering on Tuesday. It also picked up $10 million in a private placement from its partner, Novartis, which ponied up $80 million in October for a license to Pliant’s preclinical nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) treatment. All told, the company expects the proceeds to carry it into 2023.

Pliant earmarked about $90 million for its most advanced program, PLN-74809, in development for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), according to a securities filing. The drug blocks a pair of integrins, alpha V beta 1 and alpha V beta 6, which activate TGF-beta, a protein that promotes fibrosis, or scarring, in the lung and bile ducts.

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It’s already recruiting patients for two phase 2a studies in IPF and plans to start a phase 2a study in PSC in the second half of the year, “subject to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pliant said in the filing. Its Novartis-partnered NASH drug, PLN-1474, is in a phase 1 study, with topline data expected by the end of the year.

Another $20 million will go toward Pliant’s preclinical programs in oncology and muscular dystrophy. Its cancer program targets the integrin alpha V beta 8, which, like the targets of Pliant’s lead drug, activates TGF-beta. While TGF-beta boosts scarring in some tissues, it stops T cells from entering the tumor microenvironment and blocks the release of inflammatory cytokines.

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“This mechanism is becoming increasingly recognized as a potential cause of the resistance to checkpoint inhibitors such as anti-PD-1 therapies seen in many tumors,” the company said in the filing. The hope is to tamp down on TGF-beta in tumors to make them more sensitive to checkpoint inhibitors. The treatment is in IND-enabling studies.

Pliant is still working to select a candidate for muscular dystrophy. It’s choosing between antibodies that activate an undisclosed integrin receptor found on muscle cells. The idea is to boost the production of that integrin, which can compensate for the lack of dystrophin protein in muscular dystrophies.