Soon-Shiong swoops in on Benitec for PhII gene-silencing data

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is well-known for the byzantine network of biotech companies and investment vehicles that he’s spawned. The latest is NantVentures, which is the private investment arm of NantWorks and California Capital. NantWorks is the parent company for several Soon-Shiong ventures.

NantVentures has made a private investment in public Australian biotech Benitec Biopharma ($BLT). As part of that, the investment group did a $2.6 million purchase of 29.3 million Benitec shares. It has an additional up to 29.3 million more shares that may be purchased. If that second purchase is completed, NantVentures will hold 28.6% of Benitec; it now holds 16.7% of the company.

Microcap Benitec saw its shares bounce 40% to $0.13 and a market cap of about $23 million on the news. NantVentures paid a mere $.0.0895 per share. Benitec debuted on the public markets in August 2015 with a tiny $13.8 million IPO.

Benitech and NantVentures, with the aid of NantWorks, plan to start an oncology-focused R&D collaboration with clinical development and preclinical evaluation that’s slated to be led by Benitec. Top priority is returning Benitec to the clinic for Phase II data for gene-silencing, which the partners say already achieved proof-of-concept in a solid-tumor indication. The pair also expect to start a ddRNAi program, which could be a next-gen approach to solid tumors.

The partners haven’t quite finalized the deal yet, despite the announcement, but expect to do so before the end of the year.

“This is a very significant strategic engagement for Benitec,” said Benitec CEO Greg West in a statement. “Through this relationship Benitec will return to the clinic using its ddRNAi technology in collaboration with NantVentures. Benitec will benefit from a strong shareholder who will be supportive and knowledgeable in our technologies and our marketplace.”

As part of the financing, Dr. Jerel Banks, CIO of NantVentures, will join the Benitec board. Prior to that, he was a VP, portfolio manager and research analyst for the Franklin Biotechnology Discovery Fund.

“Our investment in Benitec demonstrates our long-term interest and confidence in the Benitec technology and vision for the business as it strives to find innovative single administration treatments for human disease using gene therapy,” said NantVentures’ Banks.