Vaccitech plc and Werewolf Therapeutics Inc. opened the last day of April with contrasting IPOs. Both priced mid-range, with Vaccitech raising $110.5 million, similar to Werewolf's $120 million haul. However, American depository shares of Vaccitech (NASDAQ:VACC), co-developer of Astrazeneca plc’s COVID-19 vaccine, fell 17.1% to $14.10 from a $17 open, while shares of cancer therapy developer Werewolf (NASDAQ:HOWL) boomed – until they didn't – climbing to $24 before closing about where they started, at $16.10.
Vaccitech, which co-developed the COVID-19 vaccine Astrazeneca licensed from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, may have been hurt in its debut by concerns about how much the company will receive in royalties on the product, of which its due 24% of payments, including royalties and milestones, received by Oxford. The European Commission on April 26 filed suit against Astrazeneca over supply of the vaccine.
Going into the weekend, however, Vaccitech CEO Bill Enright didn't sound too bothered. "As a publicly listed company, it's always great to trade up instead of down," he told BioWorld. "But to be honest, I look at this as a long-term game," he said, pointing to a slew of upcoming clinical readouts, each of which offers opportunities to build company's value.
Indeed, despite the roller coaster the public markets present, Vaccitech and Werewolf are in plentiful company. Through April, global markets logged 50 biopharma IPOs according to BioWorld data, far ahead of the first four-month tally for any other year. (2014 was next with 36 IPOs.) Furthermore, collectively global IPOs have raised $8.8 billion so far this year, topping last year's $3 billion, the next highest amount raised during the same period.
Joining the fray on Friday, Vaccitech, a T-cell immunotherapy and vaccine company spun out of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, sold 6.5 million ADSs for $17 each, the midpoint of its marketed $16 to $18 range. The raise unfolded on the heels of a $168 million series B financing the Oxford, U.K.-based company completed in March. Morgan Stanley, Jefferies, Barclays and William Blair acted as joint bookrunners for the offering.
Though known for its key role in co-developing Astrazeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, now known as Vaxzevria in approved markets, Vaccitech is also developing immunotherapies and vaccines to treat and prevent several infectious diseases and cancer.
In its offering prospectus, it said it plans to dedicate about $40 million of funds raised to advancing development of immunotherapy VTP-300 for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus, including completion of its ongoing phase I/IIa trial and a planned phase IIb study for the candidate. Another $30 million is slated to support VTP-200 for the treatment of human papillomavirus infection, including the completion of an ongoing phase I/II trial and the initiation of additional expansion trials. The company is also working on VTP-850, a potential treatment for prostate cancer. It plans to devote about $20 million to that program to support initiation of a phase I/II trial.
Remaining IPO funds will support the company's co-funded programs, including the development of VTP-600 for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer, VTP-400 for the prevention of herpes zoster, or shingles, and VTP-500 for the prevention of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.
Howling debut, sort of
Werewolf, which raised a $56 million series A in November 2019 and $72 million more in a January series B, drew in $120 million from its upsized IPO on Friday. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company offered 7.5 million shares priced at $16 each, the midpoint of its marketed range of $15 to $17. Jefferies, SVB Leerink and Evercore ISI are acting as joint bookrunners.
The company is developing cancer therapies designed to activate immune responses in the tumor microenvironment. Though it declined to speak about the offering on Friday, its prospectus described its most advanced product candidates as the interleukin-2 receptor agonist WTX-124 and WTX-330, an IL-12 receptor agonist. Both are systemically delivered, conditionally activated molecules that the company calls Indukines, designed for the treatment of solid tumors. The company plans to submit investigational new drug applications for each in the first half of 2022, with plans to go on to run a phase I/Ib trial for each candidate in multiple tumor types as a single agent and in combination with an immune checkpoint inhibitor.
Werewolf's Predator platform, its engine for creating Indukines, consists of protein engineering technologies used to build each molecule with four components: a cytokine, an inactivation domain, a half-life extension domain and a proprietary protease-cleavable linker, it said.
Proceeds from the IPO are slated to be divided about evenly between the '124 and '330 programs, with much of the remainder to be directed to the preclinical development of WTX-613, an interferon alpha Indukine molecule for the potential treatment of solid tumors and hematologic malignancies.
Based on the company's current plans, it said, net proceeds from the offering, together with existing cash and cash equivalents of $92.6 million, will be sufficient to fund its operations for at least two years from the IPO filing date.
With its full pipeline at a preclinical stage, real competition for the company’s assets still lies a ways off. If approved though, WTX-124 could face competition from other IL-2-based cancer therapies, such as Proleukin (aldesleukin, Clinigen Group plc), a synthetic protein very similar to IL-2, which is approved and marketed for the treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma and melanoma. In addition, Werewolf cited a lengthy list of other companies that have modified or low-dose IL-2 programs in development for the treatment of cancer.
Though no IL-12 therapies are currently on the market for the treatment of cancer, WTX-330, if approved, may face competition from programs in development by DragonFly Therapeutics Inc., Bristol Myers Squibb Co., Oncorus Inc. and Turnstone Biologics Corp., it said.