Israeli drug development firm BioLineRx Ltd. gained a listing on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and brought in $50 million in an oversubscribed initial public offering.
The Jerusalem-based company priced 28.7 million shares at $1.74 each. Its IPO is the largest of any biomedical firm in the history of the TASE, which Morris Laster, CEO of BioLineRx, called a "testament to the robustness of the marketplace in Israel."
In the past year, he added, there have been at least 20 biomedical IPOs on the TASE, "and they've done fairly well post-market."
Clal Finance Underwriting and Leader Capital Markets, both of Tel Aviv, Israel, led the offering, with participation from the company's existing investors: Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Pitango Venture Capital, Giza Venture Capital and Hadasit, the technology transfer arm of Hadasit University Hospital.
Shares of BioLineRx will trade on the TASE under the ticker "BLRX."
Prior to the IPO, the company, which began operations in 2004, was funded by $32 million in venture capital and a six-year $21 million grant from the Israeli government to fund some of its early stage work. With one year of capital remaining - and with programs in or about to enter the clinic - BioLineRx had to decide whether to seek another venture round or take the company public, Laster said.
Feedback from investors and underwriters "was extremely positive," he told BioWorld Today, "so we felt we'd take the plunge, and we're very happy we did. We were able to achieve a nice valuation on the company and were able to raise $50 million," about $20 million more than anticipated.
At the same time, the company added another $9 million through the conversion of a convertible loan from Pan Atlantic Bank and Trust Ltd., bringing the total fund raising this week to $59 million. That, plus $15 million in the bank, should "give us three or four years of capital at our current burn rate," Laster said.
The money primarily will be used to advance BioLineRx's pipeline. The company, which aims at in-licensing early stage compounds to take through safety and proof-of-concept studies, has 10 compounds in development, three of which are at the clinical stage.
The most advanced is BL-1020, a GABA-targeting, small-molecule antipsychotic compound for schizophrenia. BioLineRx completed an initial safety trial in 48 healthy subjects in October and expects to begin Phase II studies in the second quarter. BL-1020 was licensed from Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University in 2004.
"The concept behind that product," Laster said, "is to be able to see antipsychotic efficacy without the motor side effects that are typical of older antipsychotic drugs or the metabolic side effects that are present in the new atypical antipsychotics."
Following BL-1020 is BL-1040, a biodegradable alginate polymer scaffold designed to treat heart tissue damaged after a myocardial infarction. That product is expected to start a Phase I/II trial in the second quarter. A third product, BL-3010, is in a Phase I/II feasibility study in pain.
Behind those three, the company has BL-2030, which is in advanced preclinical development in prostate cancer, and BL-1021, an oral compound for chronic pain.
Another five compounds are in earlier-stage preclinical development.
Laster said the goal is to in-license "about five or six compounds a year." Since inception, BioLineRx has brought in a total of 17 compounds, though it's already terminated development of seven following less than adequate preclinical results. But the remaining 10 continue to advance for now, and "we've got another four [compounds] that are in advanced-stage negotiations," Laster said. "The identification and selection of additional compounds is constantly ongoing alongside our development work."
BioLineRx's pipeline runs the gamut in terms of indications, and Laster said the company's focus is on the process of drug development rather than on specific disease areas. Before in-licensing, "we ask two questions," he said. "Do we believe the compound will achieve approval, and is there a medical need?"
Beyond that, the company has specialized groups dealing with issues such as pharmacokinetics, preclinical work, regulatory requirements and patent protection, and also hires product managers with expertise in particular indications.
Once BioLineRx progresses a compound through proof of concept, the company likely will out-license the drug for late-stage development and commercialization, "though there might be certain instances where we take a compound all the way ourselves," Laster said, or other instances "where we might consider doing a spinout.
"We're keeping all three options open," he said.
3SBio Prices $115M IPO
3SBio Inc., a Chinese biotech firm, priced its IPO of 7.2 million American depositary shares at $16 each, higher than the $12 to $14 price range set last month. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 23, 2007.)
But shares fell $1.15 on the first day of trading. 3SBio's stock (NASDAQ:SSRX) closed Wednesday at $14.85.
The company expects gross funds of $115 million - net funds of $102 million - for general corporate purposes, clinical trials and the expansion of its manufacturing facilities and sales network.
The company's shareholders also offered 512,183 million ADSs, but 3SBio would not receive any proceeds from that sale. Underwriters have a 30-day option to purchase up to 1.2 million additional ADSs to cover any overallotments.
The company, based in Shenyang, China, sells Epiao, an injectable recombinant human erythropoietin for anemia, and Tpiao, a recombinant thrombopoetin for chemotherapy-induced thrombocytopenia.
In its development pipeline, 3SBio has a concentrated high dose of Epiao, along with NuPiao, a second-generation Epiao product. Other next-generation protein-based drugs also are in development, including NuLeusin, an Inleusin product; a human papillomavirus vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer; and an anti-TNF humanized antibody candidate for autoimmune diseases.
UBS Investment Bank, CIBC World Markets and Pacific Growth Equities are serving as underwriters for the offering.