Gene therapy biotech Avalanche banks $102M in an up-sized IPO

Menlo Park, CA's Avalanche Biotechnologies ($AAVL) pulled off a $102 million Wall Street debut, planning to spend its new cash on a pipeline of gene therapies for ocular diseases.

The biotech boosted its offering by about 11% to 6 million shares, pricing at a top-of-the-range $17 each and setting aside another 900,000 to cover over-allotments. Avalanche had twice raised its expected price range, and the final number sets its potential maximum haul at $117.3 million before discounts and fees.

Avalanche's IPO success comes on the heels of a $55 million venture round closed in April, giving the biotech an ample bankroll as it works to advance a slew of treatments that could provide functional cures for some genetic ophthalmic diseases.

The company's ticker symbol is a reference to its platform technology, which uses a harmless adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver corrective genes in patients with inherent eye disorders. Leading Avalanche's pipeline is AVA-101, which is in the midst of a Phase IIa trial for wet age-related macular degeneration and preclinical development for diabetic macular edema and retinal vein occlusion. Avalanche expects to post top-line data in wet AMD by mid-2015, and the company hopes to launch IND-enabling studies for the other two indications by next year.

Beyond its proprietary candidates, Avalanche is working with the ocular luminaries at Regeneron ($REGN), signing a deal in May to collaborate on up to 8 new therapies that could bring in $640 million in total. The duo's first joint project is AVA-311, a gene-replacement treatment for the rare and vision-destroying disease juvenile X-linked retinoschisis.

The co-sign from Regeneron, maker of the blockbuster AMD treatment Eylea, is a major affirmation of Avalanche's promise, and the Big Biotech is deepening its commitment with plans to take a $10 million stake in the company once its IPO closes.

Avalanche's up-sized market entrance comes on a busy day for biotechs on Wall Street. Israeli drug developer VBL Therapeutics ($VBLX) priced an 810,000-share offering at $12 apiece, grossing $64.8 million to fund its treatments for cancer and inflammation. And Macrocure ($MCUR), another Israeli outfit, eked out a $54 million raise after pricing 5.4 million shares at $10, far below the $13-to-$15 range it previously expected. Biggest of all, pharma contractor Catalent ($CTLT) came through with an $871.3 million IPO, moving 42.5 million shares at $20.50 each.

- read Avalanche's statement