SPAC to it: Alzheimer's-focused Aprinoia inks deal with Wilbur Ross' blank check company

Wilbur Ross' SPAC and Alzheimer’s focused-Aprinoia Therapeutics have inked one of the first biotech blank check deals of the new year, reigniting hope in the chilly SPAC waters.

The clinical-stage biotech, which has a portfolio featuring diagnostics and therapies, has entered into a proposed agreement to merge with special purpose acquisition company Ross Acquisition. The new combined company is expected to start trading upon deal closure, which is due in the first quarter of this year.

Aprinoia—a Massachusetts-based biotech focused on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)—and Ross Acquisition will combine at an implied fully diluted transaction equity value of $280 million.

As part of the deal, Ross President and CEO Wilbur Ross—who served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Trump administration—has personally invested a $7.5 million convertible note and will provide up to $12.5 million of capital infusion at closing. The money is meant to meet the capital requirements to help bring Aprinoia’s lead tau PET tracer, APN-1607, into and through commercialization in China.

The diagnostic is being assessed in a phase 3 trial in China among patients with Alzheimer’s and tauopathies such as PSP, and a phase 2 study for the same indication in the U.S. The biotech is also preparing the asset for a phase 3 trial in the U.S. among patients with PSP, subject to FDA approval.

In tandem with the SPAC announcement, the biotech has out-licensed the China rights for APN-1607 to an unnamed pharma company. The pharma has executed a binding term sheet agreeing to lead the product through its current phase 3 study and aims to commercialize the product in China in 2024. Aprinoia will continue to lead the development of APN-1607 in other areas.

The biotech also has a non-exclusive global licensing agreement with Biogen over the asset, along with a global licensing deal for clinical trials with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Celgene.

Aside from its lead asset, the biotech is also currently running a phase 1 study for its anti-tau monoclonal antibody, APN-005.  

"We are excited to partner with Aprinoia and support its quest in addressing one of the most important disease areas. With more than 6.5 million Alzheimer's patients in the U.S. currently, and an economic burden expected to reach over $350 billion by 2040, it became clear that this was a problem worth our attention,” Ross said in a Jan. 18 release.

“Aprinoia's tau approach is potentially complementary to beta-amyloid-based products like lecanemab. We're encouraged by the progress made in this field over the last two years and believe we're partnering with Aprinoia at the right time to continue advancing this field.”

While biotech SPAC deals were hot more than a year ago, the rush cooled in 2022 as the industry hit tough times. With IPOs plummeting and companies downsizing both their pipelines and teams, SPACs dried up. However, several companies started testing the SPAC waters again near the year’s end, more recently Liminatus and NewAmsterdam Pharma Co.