Move West, Raise Cash: ProNAi’s Hot Streak Now Includes $138M IPO

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

When Xconomy last reported on ProNAi Therapeutics (NASDAQ: DNAI) in April 2014, the biotech developing cancer drugs based on DNA interference (DNAi) technology had just closed a Series D round of nearly $60 million. This week, ProNAi took to the public markets, raising $138 million in an initial public offering and watching its share price jump more than 80 percent on its first day of trading.

The company sold 8.1 million shares at $17 apiece, and they closed at $31.00, giving the firm an instant $4.4 billion market value.

The company had plenty of traction heading into the IPO. ProNAi’s Series D investment was the largest round of venture capital raised in Michigan’s history, prompting the Michigan Venture Capital Association to give ProNAi its financing deal of the year award last year. Suddenly, a startup that had toiled for years to develop therapies based on technology discovered by researchers at Detroit’s Wayne State University and Karmanos Cancer Institute was on a swiftly moving upward trajectory.

ProNAi’s ascension began in earnest at the December 2013 meeting of the American Society of Hematology in New Orleans, where ProNAi announced findings from its Phase 2 trial of a cancer drug called PNT2258, which essentially turns off the cancer gene BCL2.

The trial studied 12 patients who had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was resistant to traditional treatments. Four of the patients given PNT2258 went into remission, and tumors shrank in 10 of the 12. Though the study was small, the results were promising. As former president and CEO Mina Sooch told Xconomy last April, PNT2258 not only shrunk tumors, but kept them that way. It was also found to be safe. Unlike many other cancer drugs, it’s non-toxic, doesn’t cause hair loss or weight loss, and doesn’t cause anemia, Sooch said.

Between those Phase 2 data and the IPO, however, there were big changes for the company. Just last month, ProNAi announced it had relocated from Plymouth, MI, to Vancouver, BC. (It continues to maintain a research office in Plymouth.)

Former CEO Sooch has also parted ways with ProNAi. According to a December 2014 report in Crain’s Detroit Business, Sooch left the company as part of its plan to go public, but in an article posted today, Fierce Biotech characterizes her exit as an “ousting.” ProNAi’s regulatory filings describe her departure as a “termination.” Whatever it’s called, Sooch’s exit didn’t come cheaply for the company. She was given a $240,000 severance payment that boosted her 2014 compensation to $732,000, according to the company’s filings.

Sooch’s LinkedIn account says she’s now serving as president and CEO of Gemphire, a Northville, MI-based startup working to commercialize gemcabene, and old cholesterol-lowering drug originally developed by Pfizer.

Xconomy reached out to ProNAi about the move to Vancouver and Sooch’s exit, but ProNAi declined to comment. In the meantime, ProNAi’s successful IPO represents a big win for Michigan’s biotech industry—even though the company no longer calls Michigan home.