Cell therapies and antibody drugs grab much of the attention and investment in cancer drug development but the scientists at Zentalis Pharmaceuticals contend that there’s a place for small molecules too. Now the biotech is preparing for an initial public stock offering to advance its pipeline, which includes a lead candidate in testing in combination with a Pfizer drug.
Zentalis set a preliminary $100 million target for its IPO, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Friday. The New York-based company has applied for a Nasdaq listing under the stock symbol “ZNTL.” That company is joined by Ayala Pharmaceuticals and Lyra Therapeutics, both of which also filed IPO paperwork last Friday.
Zentalis is developing small molecules to address biological pathways of cancers. The company says in its prospectus its small molecules are different than currently marketed therapies, and that they also have the potential to address large populations of cancer patients.
The Zentalis pipeline consists of four compounds, three of which are in early-stage clinical testing. Lead drug candidate, ZN-c5, is designed to target estrogen receptors (ER), proteins to which the hormone estrogen binds. Tumors that are ER positive and human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER2) negative rely on these proteins for their growth and survival. Zentalis’s ZN-c5 is an oral drug that’s a selective estrogen receptor degrader (SERD). The compound is in Phase 1/2 testing.
The Zentalis drug is intended to challenge fulvestrant (Faslodex), an AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) SERD. In 2018, the last year prior to the launch of generic competition, fulvestrant accounted for more than $1 billion in revenue for AstraZeneca. This drug is administered via two 5 mL intramuscular injections given once a month. In addition to being painful, injections of the drug into the muscle restricts how much ER degradation can be achieved, limiting its efficacy, Zentalis says.
As a once-daily pill, Zentalis believes its drug would offer patients more convenience. The drug might also be more effective. According to early data from a Phase 1/2 study, the drug was rapidly absorbed and achieved high exposure levels in the body. The Zentalis drug was well tolerated by patients and no dose-limiting toxicities were reported. Additional preliminary data from the dose escalation portion of the study are expected in the second half of this year.
The Zentalis drug is also being tested in combination with palbociclib (Ibrance), a Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) cancer drug that is FDA approved as a treatment for HR positive, HER2 negative breast cancer. Under an agreement with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant is supplying its drug for the study at no cost to Zentalis, according to the filing. Zentalis is responsible for conducting the study and paying for it. The agreement does not give Pfizer the right to participate in future Zentalis clinical trials, and each company keeps rights to their respective drugs.
The Zentalis pipeline also includes ZN-c3 and ZN-e4, drugs in early-stage development for solid tumors and non-small cell lung cancer respectively. Preliminary data for those tests are expected in 2021. Another Zentalis compound, ZN-d5, is an experimental treatment for B-cell lymphoma. In the first half of this year, the company plans to seek FDA clearance to begin clinical testing of that drug. Zentalis says in the prospectus that it will use the IPO proceeds to continue development of its three clinical-stage compounds and to advance its B-cell lymphoma drug to human testing.
Since its 2014 founding, Zentalis has raised $162.1 million, according to the filing. The most recent financing was an $85 million Series C round that closed in December. As of the end of last year, the company had $67.2 million in cash. Its largest shareholders include Recurium Equity, Matrix Capital Management Master Fund, and Viking Global Investors. The percentage of Zentalis held by those shareholders is more than 5 percent, but the exact amount was not disclosed.
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