Big Pharma partner: Check. Crossover round: Check. Hot tech: Check. IPO...

Voyager Therapeutics CEO Steven Paul

Two months after tying the Big Pharma collaboration knot with Sanofi, Cambridge, MA-based gene therapy startup Voyager Therapeutics has rolled out a $60 million venture round that will help set the stage for a prospective IPO.

Named to the Fierce 15 last fall, Voyager--a Third Rock startup that was launched in 2014--has been riding the crest of an R&D wave that has already pushed a full slate of biotechs into the public arena. Today's round was led by Brookside Capital and Partner Fund Management, with Wellington Management Company, Casdin Capital, and two "undisclosed blue chip investment funds" contributing cash.

The mix of investors and the fast money on top of Voyager's $745 million partnership with Sanofi ($SNY)--with about $100 million in venture cash, equity and "in-kind" contributions coming up front--indicates that the biotech has a public listing in mind. If it follows through, Voyager will be joining 6 other Fierce 15 companies from the class of 2014 which have either already gone public or filed for an IPO--an unprecedented burst of listings for a group of startups eagerly looking at the third year of a biotech boom on Nasdaq.

Voyager execs did not exactly discourage talk about an IPO this morning. In response to a query from FierceBiotech, the company stated: "We had an extremely high amount of interest in our Series B round, so (we) wanted to take the opportunity to diversify our shareholder base with high quality crossover healthcare investors who could help support a future potential IPO. With this Series B financing, Voyager has additional funds to expand operations and further invest in its AAV product engine and product pipeline."

Bluebird bio ($BLUE) helped establish gene therapy as a hot commodity on Nasdaq. And like several other upstart rivals to jump into existence in recent years, and months, Voyager has been busily adding programs to its growing pipeline as it works on new AAV delivery technology. The field has experienced dramatics ups and downs over the past 30 years, but Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) deal with uniQure ($QURE) late last week helped to further establish how big companies in biopharma are now determined to jump in on the second floor of what looks like a very promising near-term debut into the market.

Sanofi's deal in February gave its big subsidiary Genzyme licensing options on several programs. But Voyager retained all U.S. rights to its lead product programs in Parkinson's disease (VY-AADC01) and Friedreich's ataxia (VY-FXN01). Voyager will split U.S. profits with Genzyme for the Huntington's disease program (VY-HTT01). Voyager's lead amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) program (VY-SOD101) is not part of the collaboration.

Like a number of other gene therapy companies in this new wave of startups, Voyager in-licensed its AAV technology from ReGenX, which counts gene therapy pioneer James Wilson as its scientific godfather.

"We established a solid foundation through our launch funding and the continued support from Third Rock," says Voyager CEO Steven Paul in a statement. "This new investment from such a high-quality investor group is reflective of our progress to date in building an outstanding team, best-in-class pipeline and product engine."

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Voyager Therapeutics

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