Juno preps an IPO worth up to $191M amid CAR-T fever pitch

Juno Therapeutics, whose approach to treating cancer has turned heads around the industry, has set terms for its highly anticipated IPO, looking to raise as much as $191 million as it works to train the immune system to better fight tumors.

In a filing with the SEC, the Seattle biotech laid out plans to offer about 9.3 million shares at a range of $15 to $18 each. Juno expects to give its underwriters--Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Leerink Partners--an option to buy roughly 1.4 million extra shares. At the midpoint of its expected range, Juno would hit Wall Street with a $1.5 billion market cap, making it the most valuable biotech to go public in 2014, according to Renaissance Capital. The company is slated to trade on the Nasdaq under the symbol "JUNO."

Such a valuation comes as little surprise. Juno, a 2014 Fierce 15 honoree, is a leader among companies developing treatments that promise to change the standard of care for blood cancers. The biotech's candidates are CAR-T immunotherapies, made through a process in which scientists remove T cells from a patient's blood and equip them with targeting mechanisms called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which seek out and bind to proteins expressed by cancer cells. The resulting cells are reinjected into the patient, at which point they track down malignancies and attack them as they would any commonplace infection.

Juno's lead prospect, JCAR015, is a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the stellar Phase I results of which led the FDA to grant a breakthrough therapy designation last month, promising an expedited regulatory review. Behind that is JCAR017, in development for ALL and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), followed by JCAR014, which is undergoing early studies on various B cell malignancies. And last week, Juno expanded its pipeline by licensing another CAR-T candidate developed by the National Cancer Institute and currently in Phase I development for ALL and NHL.

The company plans to spend $25 million of its IPO windfall on getting JCAR015 to the filing stage, $20 million to take JCAR017 to registration trials, $45 million on internal R&D, $20 million on setting up a manufacturing operation and the rest on general expenses, according to its filing.

Juno continues to churn out excellent early results with its therapies, including complete remission rates nearing 90% in blood cancers noted for their particularly grim prognoses. In results released at the American Society of Hematology this week, JCAR015 spurred 24 of 27 (89%) ALL patients to complete remission, and, in a separate study, JCAR017 led to a complete remission rate of 85% among 13 pediatric patients with the same cancer.

The biotech's chief competitor is Novartis ($NVS), which is developing a similarly promising Phase I CAR-T therapy alongside the University of Pennsylvania. The suddenly crowded space also includes Kite Pharma ($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. Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, angling to raise $115 million in an IPO of its own, is developing preclinical CAR-T assets, and latecomers Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Pfizer ($PFE) shouldered into the space with with high-dollar deals earlier this year.

- read the filing
- here's Renaissance Capital's note
- check out Juno's latest data

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