Freeline Therapeutics and Checkmate Pharma Make Opening IPO Moves

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Syncona and Novo Holdings, though the filing does not specify the percentages of their stakes.

The Freeline IPO filing follows a number of recent signals about its financing intentions. Three weeks ago, the company announced that its $40 million Series C round of financing had been extended to $120 million, with participation from the type of crossover investors that indicate a company is preparing to join the public markets. The company said as much in a separate announcement the same day it revealed the expanded financing. Freeline says in its filing that it will use the IPO cash to complete the Phase 1/2 tests of its two lead programs and to continue the development of its two preclinical programs.

Meanwhile, Checkmate Pharmaceuticals is developing immunotherapies that overcome the ways cancer evades detection by the immune system. The clinical-stage company’s lead drug candidate, CMP-001, is being tested in melanoma. In its IPO paperwork, the biotech set a preliminary IPO target of $75 million to continue the clinical development of that drug and others in its pipeline.

The lead Checkmate program packages an oligonucleotide inside a virus-like particle in order to target the immune cell receptor TLR9. Injected into a tumor, the drug is intended to stimulate the innate immune system, which is responsible for marshalling T cells into action against tumors throughout the body, the Cambridge, MA-based company says in its filing.

Checkmate aims to improve how many people can be helped by a different type of immunotherapy called a checkpoint inhibitor. These drugs block checkpoint proteins—proteins that keep the immune system from recognizing a tumor. Checkpoint inhibitors work in some patients but not in others. Checkmate says that pairing its drug with a checkpoint inhibitor could expand immunotherapy’s reach to more patients.

So far, CMP-001 has been tested in more than 200 melanoma patients, by itself and in combination with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), the blockbuster-selling checkpoint inhibitor marketed by Merck (NYSE: MRK). According to results of a Phase 1b study testing the drug in patients with advanced melanoma that has not responded to treatment with a checkpoint inhibitor, the drug combination led to an objective response rate of 28 percent, meaning those patients’ tumors had shrunk significantly or disappeared after a predetermined amount of time.

CMP-001 is also being evaluated in a Phase 2 study that combines the drug with the Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab (Opdivo) in patients who have not undergone surgery or treatment with a checkpoint inhibitor. In preliminary results, Checkmate says the drug produced a pathologic complete response of 62 percent.

Checkmate was founded in 2015 by Art Krieg, the company’s chief scientific officer and a biotech industry veteran whose experience include executive roles at Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) and RaNa Therapeutics (renamed Translate Bio (NASDAQ: TBIO) in 2017). The company has raised $175 million, according to the IPO filing. Its largest shareholders are Sofinnova Venture Partners and venBio, each with a 21 percent stake.

If Checkmate completes its IPO, it expects to trade on the Nasdaq under the stock symbol “CMPI.” The IPO cash is earmarked for two mid-stage studies intended to support FDA submissions in advanced melanoma. But Checkmate says the drug has the potential to address other solid tumors, and it wants to start testing those applications too. Head and neck cancer is next in line for a Phase 2 proof-of-concept study.

Image: iStock/gedzun


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