Big Pharma-backed Dutch immuno-oncology player eyes €100M Nasdaq IPO

A Dutch immuno-oncology player that has received venture funding from Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Novartis ($NVS) and Pfizer ($PFE) is preparing to list on Nasdaq. The company--Merus--hopes to raise upward of €100 million ($107 million) to advance its pipeline of bispecific IgG antibodies into the clinic and through early-phase trials.

Merus CEO Ton Logtenberg

Utrecht, the Netherlands-based Merus moved its lead candidate--a bispecific antibody with enhanced ADCC (antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity) targeting HER2 and HER3--into a Phase I/II trial in patients with solid tumors earlier this year. A handful of preclinical-stage candidates targeting other types of solid tumors, acute myeloid leukemia and multiple myeloma are following the lead candidate MCLA-128 down the pipeline. J&J Development Corporation saw enough potential in the pipeline to join Novartis Venture Fund and Pfizer Venture Investments in a €31 million Series B extension in 2013.

Now, Het Financieele Dagblad reports Merus is planning to join its compatriots ProQR Therapeutics ($PRQR) and uniQure ($QURE) on Nasdaq. Merus CEO Ton Logtenberg--who was CSO of Crucell when it went public in 2000--told the Dutch financial newspaper the plan is to swing for an IPO of €100 million or more later this year. Like ProQR and uniQure before it, Merus is skipping a European listing and jumping straight to the U.S., a move Logtenberg views as the only logical decision for a company in its position.

"On Euronext, we have no business," Logtenberg said. The CEO views London as a domestic market for the British and the sole allure of Merus' local exchange was national pride. With the likes of Juno Therapeutics ($JUNO) and Kite Pharma ($KITE)--plus European upstarts Adaptimmune Therapeutics and Cellectis ($CLLS)--raking in mountains of cash on Wall Street, New York was the only logical option in the mind of Logtenberg. The next step is to persuade investors it is worth opening their checkbooks once again for an immuno-oncology stock.

In its favor, Merus can boast of an A-list group of VC backers--J&J, Novartis and Pfizer sit alongside Aglaia Oncology Fund, Bay City Capital and LSP--and a management team with a strong track record. CEO Logtenberg founded U-BiSys in 1996 and merged the company with IntroGene to form Crucell in 2000. After serving as CSO of Crucell--which was bought by J&J for €1.75 billion in 2011--for a few years, Logtenberg left the company and went on to found Merus in 2006. A clutch of ex-Crucell executives have joined Logtenberg at Merus, where they occupy the roles of CDO, CSO and CTO.

Now, with one candidate in the clinic, another at the IND-enabling stage and a collaboration with Japan's Ono Pharmaceutical starting to payout, the team are ready to follow the trail to Nasdaq their former employer blazed 15 years ago.   

- read the Het Financieele Dagblad article