ASH Roundup: Immunotherapy Stars, Gene Therapy Leaps Ahead

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Cancer immunotherapy and gene therapy grabbed many of the headlines from this past weekend’s American Society of Hematology meeting in San Francisco, and a number of the companies those fields look primed to cash in with big offerings in the coming weeks.

Two such companies are already prepping to do so: Juno Therapeutics of Seattle, a developer of cellular immunotherapies, revealed Wednesday that it’s shooting to raise as much as $191 million in its upcoming IPO, which looks to be the biggest biotech offering of the year. Juno is expected to price next week.

Houston’s Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, another T-cell therapy player, set a range for its IPO Tuesday, saying it aims to sell 6.25 million shares at $15-$17 apiece. It also could begin trading on the Nasdaq next week.

Others have already cashed in. Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO), for instance, just raised a whopping $220 million last night, selling almost 2 million shares at $110.75 apiece. It’s the latest step in a big run for Agios, which, for reference, was worth $18 a share when it went public a year ago.

The raise comes after a series of recent data updates from Agios. Most recently, at ASH, Agios showed it’s already on the precipice of a pivotal trial—the last required before filing for FDA approval—just two years after dosing the first patient in its first trial. Its acute myeloid leukemia drug, AG-221, continues to maintain a roughly 56 percent overall response rate as more patients participate in the trial; those responses, in some cases, have lasted as long as eight months. Agios also gave investors the first look at a drug called AG-348, for a rare, inherited form of anemia.

It wouldn’t be surprising, meanwhile, to see Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) soon tap Wall Street for cash as well. Bluebird showed at ASH that the first four beta-thalassemia patients given its gene therapy are free of the frequent blood transfusions they would otherwise require to fend off anemia. The data are a leap ahead for the gene therapy field, which has undergone a renaissance over the past few years. They’ve also nearly doubled Bluebird’s value since: shares are worth $82.71 apiece post-ASH, up from $48.89 before the meeting.

On the ground at the conference (where the notable number of attendees smoking outside on the San Francisco sidewalks gave an extra layer of meaning to the acronym ASH), we covered discussions of the two main types of cancer immunotherapy: cell-based methods and antibody-based treatments. The cell-based methods, the likes of which are being pursued by Juno, Novartis (via a collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania), Bellicum, Kite Pharma (NASDAQ: KITE), and others, continued to show very promising results in early studies. Kite used that momentum to … Next Page »

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