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Hookipa’s IPO Raises $84M for Drugs to Reprogram the Immune System

Xconomy New York — 

Hookipa Pharma has raised $84 million in an initial public offering that will fund development of experimental treatments developed to reprogram the immune system to treat infectious diseases and cancer.

But Hookipa (NASDAQ: HOOK) had to downsize its IPO, offering only 6 million shares at $14 apiece. That was the low end of its targeted $14 to $16 range. Hookipa had initially planned to sell 6.7 million shares. In the first day of trading Thursday, Hookipa shares hovered around the IPO price.

Hookipa is developing treatments that it says could elicit immune responses that are stronger and more durable than current immunotherapies. The company also says in its IPO prospectus that its “off-the-shelf” approach would be easier and less expensive to manufacture compared to current cell therapies, which require T cells to be cultured and expanded in a lab before they are infused back into the patient’s body.

The Hookipa immunotherapies are based on reengineered versions of arenavirus, a virus associated with diseases transmitted from rodents to humans. The company’s first technology, VaxWave, uses an arenavirus engineered to prompt an immune response as a preventative measure against infectious disease. A second Hookipa technology, TheraT, uses the virus to produce an immune response against cancer.

Hookipa’s most advanced drug candidate, HB-101, is a treatment to prevent cytomegalovirus infection in patients awaiting kidney transplants from donors who are positive for that virus. In Phase 1 tests, the company reported that the drug elicited a strong immune response against cytomegalovirus, which can result in both benign and fatal symptoms. The company also said that its immunotherapy did not produce antibodies that would weaken the treatment. A Phase 2 study began in the fourth quarter of 2018. Safety data are expected in the first half of 2020; preliminary efficacy data are expected to follow in the second half of that year.

Oncology drug candidates HB-201 and HB-202 still preclinical. Those immunotherapies were developed to treat cancers caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), which is associated with cancers of the tonsil and tongue, as well cervical and anal cancers.

Hookipa says in its prospectus that it plans to file an application to begin a Phase 1/2 study in the first half of this year testing HB-201 as a standalone treatment and in combination with a type of cancer immunotherapy called a checkpoint inhibitor. The company says data are expected in late 2020 or early 2021. An application for clinical tests of HB-202 is planned for the first half of next year, with data expected by mid-2021. A third Hookipa oncology drug, HB-301, was developed as a treatment for prostate cancer.

According to the prospectus, approximately $20 million of the IPO proceeds will be used to fund Phase 2 tests of HB-101. Another $40 million is earmarked for advancing HB-201 and HB-202 into human testing. The company plans to spend approximately $27 million to take HB-301 through Phase 1 testing.

Last year, Hookipa began a partnership with Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) to develop treatments for infections from hepatitis B and HIV. Those programs will be funded by Gilead. Hookipa received $10 million from its partner up front and it could earn up to $400 million in milestone payments.

Hookipa traces its origins to Austria, where the company began in 2011 under the name Hookipa Biotech. In 2017, the company set up a US subsidiary. The company still maintains research operations in Vienna, Austria, but last year relocated its headquarters to New York.

Since its launch in 2011, Hookipa has financed its operations by raising approximately $105 million, most recently a $37.9 million Series D round of funding in February, according to the filing. Hookipa’s largest shareholder prior to the IPO was Baker Bros. Advisors with a 19.68 percent stake, followed by Sofinnova Capital with an 18.58 percent stake.

Photo by Flickr user Jens karlsson via a Creative Commons license