Gene therapy player Dimension stirs IPO buzz with $65M venture round

Dimension Therapeutics CEO Annalisa Jenkins

Demonstrating once again that gene therapy research has emerged as one of the hottest fields in biotech, Cambridge, MA-based Dimension Therapeutics has rounded up a $65 million B round from a slate of new and existing investors. Adding in Bayer's $20 million upfront for signing on as a partner last summer along with its A round, Dimension has now banked more than $100 million for its R&D activities. The only question now is whether it will wait long to file an IPO.

New Leaf Venture Partners stepped in as a new investor to lead the financing, which gained contributions from Jennison Associates (on behalf of investors), Partner Fund Management, RA Capital Management, Rock Springs Capital, and Tourbillon Global Ventures, and another unnamed life sciences investor. The original investors, Fidelity Biosciences and OrbiMed, also participated in the round.

The money arrives as Dimension, a 2014 Fierce 15 company, is edging toward the launch of its first clinical-stage program in the second half of this year, with plans to advance three more programs into the clinic next year. Broadly speaking, the biotech is tackling "liver-associated, rare metabolic disease." Like several other gene therapy upstarts, Dimension in-licensed technology from AAV delivery tech from ReGenX, a company that gathered together IP from scientific pioneer James Wilson. Its first target is hemophilia B--a favorite among several gene therapy companies.

Dimension was founded by Fidelity and is helmed by Annalisa Jenkins, the former R&D chief at Merck KGaA and a veteran of Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) when that company was making amazing strides in the clinic.

Jenkins says the round was oversubscribed, highlighting investors' interest in the field. And she didn't quash any talk about an IPO, saying that "we are looking at all of the opportunities to fully fund the programs."

Since Jenkins took the CEO's job last fall, she's been moving to make Dimension into a major player in the gene therapy field. The biotech has been adding to its staff, now around 40, with new hires taking positions all the way from preclinical R&D straight through clinical development posts, manufacturing and regulatory.

"I think that with the new finances we will add more resources," Jenkins tells FierceBiotech today. "The idea really is to create a company where we have the expertise in-house to build a leading AAV company globally." Bayer's helped with that and Dimension's Jenkins also signed a CRO pact with PPD, which adds additional resources for development.

With a number of rivals in the field, Jenkins plans to move fast. Focusing on rare diseases, she says, Dimension can get its first hemophilia program going later this year, with data in the first half of 2016. Working with some well accepted biomarkers, she adds, it's possible to determine exactly what the company's prospects are, and then move straight into a registration study with results in hand in 2017.

In the meantime, she says, one of the key differentiators for Dimension will be nailing down a high quality manufacturing process.

Money is moving fast in gene therapy. Just a week ago Voyager Therapeutics--another 2014 Fierce 15 company--rolled out its $60 million round, while openly flirting with an IPO. These moves come after bluebird bio helped establish gene therapy as a hot commodity on Nasdaq. And like several other upstart rivals to jump into existence in recent years, and months, new companies like Dimension and Voyager have been busily adding programs to growing pipelines. The field has experienced dramatic ups and downs over the past 30 years, but Bristol-Myers Squibb's recent deal with uniQure and Biogen's ($BIIB) similar move into hemophilia 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.

Once beyond the realm of possibility, startups are looking at doing an IPO in record time these days. If Dimension does proceed with an IPO, it would be the seventh biotech among 2014's Fierce 15 companies that either went public or filed. That's never happened before.

"Dimension is differentiated in the gene therapy sector both in terms of the company's focus on liver-associated, rare metabolic diseases and the impressive track record of its highly accomplished leadership team," says New Leaf partner Mike Dybbs, who is joining the board. "We believe Dimension's breakthrough platform has strong potential to transform the lives of patients, and we look forward to further progress of the company's programs."

- here's the release

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