Bellicum Pharmaceuticals Files for IPO: Would Be First Houston Biotech to Go Public in 15 Years

Xconomy Texas — 

Houston biotech firm Bellicum Pharmaceuticals has filed for a $115 million IPO.

The company is developing immunotherapies that allow the suppression or activation of cells administered to patients with leukemia, lymphoma, or pancreatic cancers. According to the filing, Bellicum plans to trade on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol BLCM.

The IPO would be the first for a Houston biotech in nearly 15 years—since Tanox, a maker of an allergic asthma treatment, went public in 2000. (Tanox was acquired by Genentech in 2006 for about $919 million.) This past May, ZS Pharma, a developer of a drug to treat chronic kidney disease, filed to take the Fort Worth, TX-based company public. At its market debut in June, the company issued shares at $18 a share in a total transaction of $116.9 million. The stock closed at $35.14 Tuesday.

“The rest of the country, in the biotech community, track this,” says Jacqueline Northcut, CEO of BioHouston and an Xconomist. “This shines the spotlight on the Houston biotech industry.”

The IPO also illustrates that grant funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas can play a foundational role in supporting young biotech companies, she added. In 2011, Bellicum received $6.2 million in one of the first grants handed out from the state agency.

Bellicum, which was founded 10 years ago, is developing cancer therapies based on core technology that allows physicians to control cells—either by stopping or triggering them—after they’ve been administered to the patient.

One drug candidate, BPX-501, is used in stem cell transplants to treat leukemia and lymphoma. The drug is designed with a cell-suicide mechanism that can be triggered to force it to kill cells gone rogue, making a currently risky cancer treatment safer for patients. “The product allows the physician to not have to worry about graft versus host (GVH) disease,” Bellicum CEO Tom Farrell told me in an interview this past August. “The cells can be eliminated in the event that GVH occurs.”

The company’s second therapy, BPX-201, is a vaccine that consists of dendritic cells that are programmed to fight prostate cancer. (The vaccine is made from the patient’s own white blood cells.)

In both drugs, a patient’s own immune system’s cells are implanted with technology that embeds an on/off switch inside the cell. Bellicum is also working on a triggering drug, AP1903, which helps doctors control when the “switch” is flipped on, thereby hopefully kicking in the desired treatment at the most optimal time. Controlling the deployment of the switching drugs is meant to increase the drugs’ potency.

Both drugs are being tested in clinical trials.

“Each is a different embodiment of the switch technology,” Farrell explained. “One is the switch that eliminates the cell, and the other is the switch that activates the cell.”