As it chases its shape-shifting cytokine drugs toward the clinic, Werewolf Therapeutics will collect $120 million in its Wall Street debut.
The company ended 2020 with $93 million in the bank but wasted no time running down more capital. After snaring a $72 million private round in January, it filed to raise up to $100 million in its IPO.
The company bumped that up to $120 million by upping the number of shares it would offer—no small feat, given that the biotech is still preclinical with much to prove. It is not, though, so unusual these days, and this comes amid a boom in life science IPOs, spurred on by fresh optimism in the sector in general and its response to COVID-19.
Werewolf originally planned to offer 6.25 million shares at a price between $15 and $17 a piece, according to securities filing filed last Friday. The company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday to add more than a million shares to the deal, eventually offering 7.5 million shares at $16 each.
The company will start trading on Friday under the ticker “HOWL.”
Werewolf’s shape-shifting drugs are designed to deliver the benefits of cytokines without their nasty side effects. Known as Indukines, the drugs are “switched off” when they are given systemically to patients and activate only when they arrive at their destination: cancer cells.
About $112 million of the IPO proceeds will push Werewolf’s lead programs, WTX-124, a conditionally activated interleukin-2 (IL-2) treatment, and WTX-330, a conditionally activated IL-12 treatment, through dose escalation and expansion trials, according to the securities filing.
The company plans to file INDs for both in the first half of 2022, after which it will start phase 1/1b studies for each in multiple tumor types. It plans to develop the programs for use on their own and in combination with checkpoint inhibitors, in the hopes of making the latter accessible to more patients.
Another $12 million will bankroll the preclinical development of a third asset, WTX-613, a shape-shifting interferon-alpha treatment.
Cytokines, such as IL-2 have long held promise as cancer treatments. But because they evolved in the body as signaling molecules, they’re missing some key features that would make them good drugs.
Proleukin, a recombinant form of IL-2, came to market almost 30 years ago, but poor drug-like properties and side effects have limited its use. Those side effects include immunosuppression and vascular leak, where fluids and proteins leak from blood vessels into surrounding tissues, causing organ damage. They happen because cytokines don’t just stimulate the immune system to attack tumors—they can also activate the immune system against normal tissues.
Werewolf is engineering proteins that, thanks to their structural design, call forth an immune response in tumors but not in healthy tissues. Other players hoping to make better cytokines for cancer treatment include Synthekine, which launched in September with $82 million, Bright Peak Therapeutics, which debuted in July with $35 million and Asher Bio, which emerged in March with $55 million. And Sanofi bet big on the approach in December 2019, when it inked a $2.5 billion deal to acquire Synthorx.