Precision BioSciences Launches IPO to Raise $126.4 Million
The company offered 7,900,000 shares of common stock. It also granted the underwriters a 30-day option to buy up to 1,185,000 additional shares of common stock at the public offering price.
The company focuses on gene-edited CAR-T cell therapies for cancer. Its ARCUS tech platform is a fully synthetic enzyme much like a homing endonuclease. A homing endonuclease is a naturally-occurring DNA-cutting enzyme found in the genomes of many eukaryotic lifeforms. ARCUS is an improvement on nature, with high specificity that can be customized to recognize a DNA sequence inside any target gene.
It plans to use the funds for clinical trials and a manufacturing facility. Its SEC filing indicated that “management will retain broad discretion” over the net proceeds of the IPO, so it’s entirely possible some of the funds will be used to in-license or acquire assets.
The company raised $88 million in a June private equity raise. The largest shareholder is venBio Global Strategic Fund, which owns about 11 percent of company shares.
On March 14, Raymond Schinazi joined the company’s board of directors. Schinazi is the Frances Winship Walters Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology at Emory University.
In a statement at the time, Schinazi said, “The cutting-edge technology developed by the Precision BioSciences team provides new opportunities to combat viral diseases like hepatitis B virus (HBV). Their proprietary genome editing platform, ARCUS, has the potential to enable alternative innovative therapies to safely and efficiently silence genes essential for viruses that cause significant human morbidity and mortality.”
Schinazi co-founded several biotech companies, including Triangle Pharmaceuticals and Pharmasset.
Precision BioSciences has a subsidiary, Elo Life Systems, which focuses on using the technology to enhance the nutrition and diversity of global food supply. On February 25, Elo signed a collaboration deal with Avoca LLC, a subsidiary of the specialty chemicals company Ashland. Ashland focuses on improving the production of Clary Sage plants and a related compound, Sclareol.
Sclareol is a key ingredient used by the fragrance industry to manufacture a sustainable substitute for ambergris, a waxy substance secreted by a small percentage of sperm whales. Occasionally dubbed “whale vomit,” ambergris is still used in some perfumes and is used to make fragrances last longer. It is generally found washed up on shore or floating at sea, and the trade of ambergris is illegal in the U.S. and Australia.
“Elo’s business model is designed to enable the seamless integration of our innovative agricultural technologies with Avoca’s ability to rapidly translate them into a product,” stated Fayaz Khazi, chief executive officer of Elo Life Systems. “With such collaborative approaches, our technologies are positioned to deliver improved and sustainable products to the customer through our partners.”
As diverting as the ambergris aspect of the company is, Precision BioSciences is essentially a gene-editing company with its own proprietary method, ARCUS. The fundamental aspect of ARCUS is the ARC nuclease, a fully synthetic enzyme similar to a homing endonuclease but improved to be the first therapeutic-grade genome editing platform. It can be customized to recognize a DNA sequence within any target gene. They can also be optimized to control potency and specificity.
ARCUS is believed to have advantages over the better known CRISPR/Cas9 and less-well-known TALEN (Transcription Activator-Like Nucleases) gene editing techniques. Precision BioSciences argues that ARCUS targets genes with more precision and flexibility.