Swedish biotech Oncopeptides has raised €133M (SEK 1.4B) by issuing new company shares, surpassing expectations and driving the launch of its targeted chemotherapy drug in the US.
In what could be one of European biotech’s largest equity boosts this year, the company exceeded initial plans to raise €111M (SEK 1.2M) through Nasdaq Stockholm following a higher than expected demand for its shares.
Most investors were foreign and new to the company, although there was strong support from Swedish institutions. Among those participating were the US investment firms Artisan Partners, Deerfield Partners, Farallon, and Octagon Capital Advisors.
Issuing over 12 million new shares allows Oncopeptides to propel its lead drug candidate melflufen — a modified form of the approved chemotherapy drug melphalan — towards becoming a first-in-class treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer originating in white blood cells of the bone marrow.
Melflufen consists of melphalan attached to a carrier molecule called flufenamide. The carrier takes melphalan into the cell and a family of enzymes called peptidases — found at high levels in several cancers, including multiple myeloma — cleave the peptide carrier from its chemotherapy payload. Melphalan is then trapped in the cell where it damages DNA molecules, killing the cancer cell.
By making melphalan more selective, Oncopeptides aims to improve its tumor-busting effects while reducing side effects such as nausea.
The company will file for accelerated US approval before the end of June. The aim is to market melflufen for the treatment of relapsed multiple myeloma patients that fail to respond to three different classes of drugs, and who have therefore exhausted most available treatment options.
“Melflufen has high potency in addressing malignant tumor cells without affecting other healthy cells, so it is almost like a targeted therapy. That gives it high efficacy in patients with multiple myeloma,” Oncopeptides Head of Investor Relations, Rein Piir, told me.
“We will prepare for the launch of melflufen based on US approval. Assuming that regulatory approval is achieved, we will need to be ready by the end of the year.”
Melflufen, which has received orphan drug status in both Europe and the USA for multiple myeloma, could be eligible for accelerated approval based on mid-stage clinical results gathered so far. However, the company would need to follow up melflufen’s approval with phase III clinical trials to confirm the drug’s benefits.
Oncopeptides will additionally use the new capital to carry out two confirmatory phase III trials. With these trials, the company also aims to broaden melflufen’s treatment range to patients in multiple myeloma who have a less advanced disease.
One of the phase III trials is coming close to having its final patient recruited while the other, involving a combination with the checkpoint inhibitor Darzalex, is planned for initiation after the summer.
The company also has two more drug candidates based on its peptide-drug conjugate platform that it will explore as a treatment for other cancers such as breast cancer.
This big fundraise follows Oncopeptides’ IPO on Nasdaq Stockholm in 2017, where it raised €68M to fund the development of melflufen.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken biotech stocks in 2020. Nevertheless, there have still been some gigantic fundraises in the European public biotech space besides Oncopeptides’ oversized winnings. For example, €378M was raised in a share issue by the Danish company Bavarian Nordic in late March, and the French allergy biotech DBV Technologies took home around €140M with a share issue in early February.
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