Cerulean pitches $75M IPO to give its cancer drug another shot

After a big mid-stage failure cast doubt on its lead drug, biotech Cerulean Pharma is betting the nano treatment can succeed in other cancers, pitching a $75 million IPO to bankroll further development.

The drug, CRLX101, is a nanotech-powered treatment that links the cancer-killing camptothecin to proprietary polymers and seeks out leaky tumor vessels to deliver a targeted payload. Last year, the drug failed to meet its primary endpoint of overall survival in a Phase IIb study on 157 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, but the Cambridge, MA, biotech believes CRLX101 can prove itself in three other indications.

That's where the $75 million comes in. Cerulean plans to sell off an as-yet-undisclosed number of shares and land on the Nasdaq under "CERU," using the proceeds to fund further study of CRLX101. The biotech is working through a Phase Ib/II trial of the drug in patients with relapsed renal cell carcinoma, a Phase II study on relapsed ovarian cancer and another Phase Ib/II to see whether the treatment works as a neoadjuvant for rectal cancer. Cerulean plans to use some of its raise to get the preclinical CRLX301 into Phase I in solid tumors by year's end.

Oliver Fetzer, CEO of Cerulean Pharma

And there's some immediacy to Cerulean's float: The company had just $5.5 million in the bank as of Dec. 31, according to a filing, and last year, in the wake of CRLX101's NSCLC failure, CEO Oliver Fetzer told FierceBiotech his company would have to go back to the well to keep the drug moving forward.

Now, in keeping with the biggest trend among private drugmakers, Cerulean is looking to the public markets instead of its existing investor syndicate, hoping the best environment for biotech IPOs since 2000 can help fill its R&D coffers.

After a booming 2013 brought in billions for drug developers, 19 life sciences companies have pulled off successful market debuts in the new year, and despite early-year concerns that the bubble was nigh on a burst, the returns have been largely positive. Poster children Dicerna ($DRNA) and Ultragenyx ($RARE) have each more than doubled their share values since going public in January, while Auspex ($ASPX) and Revance Therapeutics ($RVNC) have soared after February offerings. Cerulean joins Versartis and Akebia Therapeutics in the next class of biotech IPO hopefuls.

- read the filing