Bellicum battles for CAR-T spotlight with a $121M IPO pitch

Juno Therapeutics isn't the only cancer immunotherapy biotech hoping to make a splash on Wall Street before the year's out. Houston's Bellicum Pharmaceuticals has laid out plans to raise as much as $121 million in an IPO, cash that'll support its proprietary take on a promising new approach to oncology.

The company expects to offer about 6.3 million shares at between $15 and $17 each, setting aside another 937,500 to cover overallotments. The plan is to hit the Nasdaq under the ticker "BLCM" before the end of December, earmarking much of its proceeds for the preclinical development of treatments that fight cancer by harnessing the power of the immune system.

Bellicum's pipeline includes BPX-401, which uses targeting mechanisms called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to train T cells to bind to the CD19 antigen, expressed by hematological cancer cells. Following that is BPX-601, a CAR-T candidate that targets solid tumors, and BPX-701, an immunotherapy for skin cancers. The biotech plans to submit rolling NDA filings for each, starting in the second half of next year and continuing into 2016.

Each treatment uses technology derived from BPX-501, a T cell therapy designed to ward off graft-versus-host disease in patients undergoing stem cell transplants, which is Bellicum's most advanced asset. The biotech's proprietary platform comes with a "safety switch" it says can mute unwanted transplant reactions like cytokine release syndrome, a common response to CAR-T therapy that has occasionally proven fatal in early studies.

Meanwhile, Juno, a high-profile innovator in the CAR-T space, is lining up an IPO of its own that could bring in as much as $191 million, and Bellicum is expected to price its offering in the same week. Juno is already in the clinic and reporting stellar early results with its cadre of immunotherapies, and analysts figure its Wall Street debut to be among the biggest of the year.

Among the CAR-T crowd is Novartis ($NVS), which has posted promising clinical results alongside its partners at the University of Pennsylvania. The fast-crowding space also includes Kite Pharma ($KITE), which grossed more than $140 million in a June IPO on the strength of its approach to T cell modification, and oncology heavyweight Celgene ($CELG), which reached out to gene therapy pioneer bluebird bio ($BLUE) to get to work in CAR-T. Latecomers Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Pfizer ($PFE) also shouldered into the space with high-dollar deals earlier this year.

- read the filing