Voyager braves turbulent market waters with an $86M gene therapy IPO

Voyager Therapeutics evidently isn't all that alarmed about widespread fears that the IPO window for biotech may be grinding shut. The biotech became the ninth Fierce 15 company from the class of 2014 to file for an IPO, looking to the markets to deliver $86 million or so to continue funding for its early-stage gene therapy work.

Cambridge, MA-based Voyager filed the S-1 on Friday, noting that Third Rock owns slightly more than half of the company. Voyager is helmed by Eli Lilly ($LLY) vet Steven Paul, who joined the recent migration out of Big Pharma and into biotech.

Voyager Therapeutics CEO Steven Paul

Like many of the new biotechs journeying into Nasdaq these days, Voyager is attempting to make the leap with very little clinical validation for its work. Its lead program is a gene therapy--now in Phase I--that uses an AAV vector to deliver a remedy for Parkinson's disease. Using an AAV delivery vector, Voyager has set out to prove that it can deliver an enzyme called aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase, or AADC, to a specific region of the brain, promoting the conversion of L-dopa into dopamine and helping to control symptoms of the disease.

The rest of the programs at Voyager include preclinical treatments for a range of CNS conditions, including ALS and Huntington's. 

Like rivals in the field, Voyager inked a major collaboration with a Big Pharma company. In this case Sanofi ($SNY) stepped in with a $100 million commitment in cash and in kind to partner up, offering up to $745 million in milestones for successful pipeline work. Voyager kept U.S. commercialization rights in its deal.

Voyager set the stage for this IPO with a $60 million crossover round unveiled last April. Over the past few weeks, though, the sudden notoriety that Turing CEO Martin Shkreli gained by jacking up the price of a 62-year-old drug by more than 5000% focused a spotlight of public attention on the routine industry practice of regularly boosting prices on aging therapies. That made drug pricing a central issue in the presidential campaign and spooked the long-running bull market for biotech, triggering a general rout into bear territory.

Recent indications suggest that new offerings like this could find rough sailing ahead, with analysts mindful of the lineup of painful market haircuts that awaited the last few IPOs to hit. Voyager, which plans to list as "VYGR," will now set out to test the market's attitudes toward gene therapies, a new field that has generated enthusiasm for the likes of bluebird bio ($BLUE) and others.

Gene therapy biotechs tend to rise and fall as a pack, which may be a boon to Voyager in terms of timing. Spark Therapeutics ($ONCE) recently demonstrated the Phase III success of its vision-related gene therapy, helping to establish the credibility of the overall approach for everyone in the pack.

- here's the S-1

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