Pliant Therapeutics Prices IPO, Lands $144M to Test Fibrosis Drugs

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Pliant Therapeutics is now a public company, raising $144 million from its IPO, plus more from a separate transaction with partner Novartis.

South San Francisco-based Pliant priced its offering of 9 million shares at $16 apiece, which was the high end of its revised price range. When the biotech initially set IPO terms last week, it planned to sell 6.9 million shares in the range of $14 to $16 per share. On Tuesday, Pliant boosted the number of shares in the IPO but kept the price range. Pliant’s shares are expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Wednesday under the stock symbol “PLRX.”

Pliant is developing drugs for fibrosis, a thickening and hardening of connective tissue that leads to scarring in organs such as the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Though there are drugs that treat fibrosis symptoms, Pliant says they don’t address the biological factor that drives the disease—a signaling pathway gone awry. This pathway is typically activated in response to injury, promoting collagen production and tissue healing, the company says in its IPO filing. But in fibrosis, the pathway is continuously activated even in the absence of an injury. Pliant’s small molecule drugs are designed to block a protein that mediates this signaling pathway.

Lead Pliant drug candidate PLN-74809 is being developed for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which affects the lungs. In addition to addressing the biological driver of fibrosis, the company contends its drugs are more targeted than other therapies, which means that they could produce fewer side effects. Pliant is currently enrolling two Phase 2 studies evaluating PLN-74809 in IPF, one to assess how well the drug hits its target in the lungs and the second to test up to three doses and a placebo to produce more data about the drug’s safety, tolerability, and how it moves throughout the body.

The lead Pliant drug is also being evaluated for potential use treating primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a form of fibrosis affecting the bile ducts. The company says a Phase 2a study in PSC is planned for the second half of this year, depending on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another Pliant drug, PLN-1474, is in testing as a treatment for liver fibrosis associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). That program is partnered with Novartis (NYSE: NVS), which is financing the clinical development. The small molecule is in Phase 1 testing. Preliminary data from the study are expected by the end of this year, according to the filing.

Alongside Pliant’s IPO, Novartis is boosting its ownership stake in its partner. The pharmaceutical giant is buying 625,000 Pliant shares at the IPO price, adding another $10 million to the biotech’s gross proceeds.

In its filing, Pliant says it will apply its new cash toward clinical development of its lead program. The company will also continue research and development of programs in earlier stages of development.

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