Vaccine Developer Genocea Prices IPO at $12 Per Share

Xconomy Boston — 

If the question was how would public investors view a vaccine developer in today’s hot biotech IPO market, the answer Genocea Biosciences got last night was: cautiously.

Cambridge, MA-based Genocea sold 5.5 million shares to public investors at $12 apiece, raising a total of $66 million before discounts due to underwriters. It marks a lukewarm entry to the public markets for Genocea, which priced at the low end of the $12 to $14 per share range it set a few weeks ago. The company will begin trading on the Nasdaq this morning under the ticker symbol “GNCA.”

Genocea’s underwriters, Citigroup Global Markets, Cowen & Co., Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., and Needham & Co., have the 30-day option to buy up to 825,000 more shares at the IPO price.

Before the IPO, Genocea had corralled about $81 million in equity financing since its 2006 inception. Those dollars have come from a big-name investor pool that includes Polaris Partners (16.3 percent stake), Lux Ventures (14.8 percent), SR One, the venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline (13 percent), Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. (11.7 percent), and CVF LLC (9.3 percent). Skyline Ventures (8.8 percent), Cycad Group (6.6 percent), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (6.2 percent) also hold significant pieces of the company.

Genocea was created around the work of Harvard University immunologist Darren Higgins. The company has spent years developing and fine-tuning a platform that’s supposed to make it quicker and easier to produce a vaccine by significantly cutting down the time it takes to discover antigens—the substances in vaccines that trigger a disease-fighting immune response.

Genocea is also using that platform to create vaccines that trigger responses both from B cells (the ones that form antibodies) and T cells. All of the currently approved vaccines work in a more limited way, by teaching B cells to fight microbes.

Still, it’ll likely be a few years before Genocea can prove if its approach can provide a clinically meaningful benefit for patients.. The first two products coming from the company’s platform are experimental vaccines designed to treat genital herpes (GEN-003) and pneumococcus (GEN-004). Genocea reported interim data from its first human clinical trial of GEN-003 in September, and expects to start a Phase II trial by the middle of the year. It plans to report data from a Phase I trial for GEN-004 around the same time.

Genocea plans to use a portion of its IPO cash to bankroll the trials it’s running for the two vaccines. It had about $12.1 million in cash as of Sept. 30, and spent about $34 million on research and development between 2010 and 2012, according to the IPO prospectus.