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Equillium Plans IPO to Fund Clinical Trials for Transplant Drug

Xconomy San Diego — 

Equillium, a biotech startup developing treatments for immune system disorders—including an immune response that affects some transplant recipients—is preparing for an IPO to finance tests of its lead drug.

The company set a preliminary IPO target of $86 million, according to documents filed this week with securities regulators, and has applied to be listed on the Nasdaq exchange under the stock symbol “EQ.”

La Jolla, CA-based Equillium, founded in 2017 as Attenuate Biopharmaceuticals, licensed its antibody drug candidate itolizumab (which it calls EQ001) from Biocon Limited (NSE: BIOCON), India’s largest biopharmaceutical company. Itolizumab has been approved in India to treat plaque psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition. Biocon markets the drug there for patients with active moderate to severe forms of the disease as ALZUMAb.

Equillium plans to test the drug for multiple immuno-inflammatory diseases—asthma, uveitis, colitis, and multiple sclerosis—characterized by attacks by the body’s immune system. Its lead target is graft-versus-host disease, an immune response that affects some transplant patients.

“We believe EQ001 may have broad therapeutic utility in treating a large and diverse set of severe immuno-inflammatory diseases,” the company said in its prospectus filed Monday.

Equillium chairman and CEO Dan Bradbury previously headed another La Jolla drug maker, the diabetes drug manufacturer Amylin Pharmaceuticals, which was founded in 1987.

Bradbury, who worked at Amylin for 18 years, was CEO from 2007 to 2012, when the company was jointly acquired for $5.3 billion, plus $1.7 billion in Amylin debt, by New York-based pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN).

The acquisition followed the regulatory approval of Amylin’s drug Bydureon, a once-per-week diabetes shot.

Bristol later sold its stake in Amylin to AstraZeneca, shuttered the San Diego company’s operations and elsewhere, and folded its personnel into its other operations.

Prior to his time at Amylin, Bradbury spent 10 years with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) predecessor SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals in marketing and sales.

Equillium said it intends to use about $50 million in IPO proceeds to fund research and development of EQ001, specifically a Phase 1b/2 clinical trial for the acute form of GVHD in early 2019, and a Phase 2 clinical trial for the chronic version of the disease and a proof-of-concept clinical trial for the treatment of severe asthma in the first half of 2019.

While EQ001 and ALZUMAb share the same antibody, Equillium notes each is manufactured in different cell lines, meaning they could be considered different biopharmaceutical products.

Equillium sources the antibody through its partnership with Biocon, which the biopharma giant manufactures for clinical and commercial use. No FDA-approved therapies currently target CD6, the receptor Equillium is targeting, although some independent studies have validated CD6 as a target, the company noted in its filing.

Equillium, of course, is far from alone in its interest in developing treatments for diseases involving the immune system. Just over a year ago the FDA approved ibrutinib as the first drug for use in patients with chronic GVHD. Marketed as Imbruvica, the treatment was developed by Pharmacyclics, a Bay Area-based biopharma company owned by AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV).

Bradbury co-founded Equillium with Bruce Steel, who is president and chief business officer, and Stephen Connelly, the chief scientific officer.

Steel is also founder and managing director of BioMed Ventures, the strategic investment arm of BioMed Realty; Connelly is a BioMed Ventures principal. Connelly was previously director of business development and therapeutic alliances at San Diego’s aTyr Pharma (NASDAQ: LIFE), which went public, raising $75 million, in 2015.

Prior to co-founding Equillium, Steel was co-founder and CEO of Rincon Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired in 2008 by bioenergy startup Sapphire Energy.

The trio are the company’s principal stockholders—Bradbury and Steel each own about one-third, while Connolly owns about one-tenth—along with Biocon SA, a Biocon subsidiary, which owns an 18.8 percent stake.

As of June 30, Equillium had raised $9.4 million in convertible notes and had $6.6 million in cash and cash equivalents on hand. It reported a net loss since inception of $5.6 million. The IPO proceeds, plus its existing funds, would pay for operations for “at least” the next 24 months, Equillium said.