Gene-Editing Drugmaker Backed by Google, Gates Files for IPO

  • Editas Medicine to use proceeds for blindness, cancer studies
  • Flurry of IPO filings also includes Corvus, Audentes, Reata

Editas Medicine Inc., the drugmaker whose backers include Bill Gates and Google Ventures, filed to become the first publicly traded company to specialize in a new technology to edit flaws in genes.

The company, which uses a gene-editing technique called Crispr, filed Monday for the IPO with an initial size of $100 million. That’s a placeholder amount used to calculate fees and will probably change.

Gene-editing startups have drawn more than $1 billion in private venture-capital investments since 2013, according to Boston Consulting Group, with investors hopeful that new, more precise DNA-editing capabilities will yield treatments for conditions as diverse as blood diseases, cancers, auto-immune disorders and inherited eye disorders. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Editas has raised $163.3 million from selling preferred stock, its filing said. Venture capital firms Flagship Ventures and Polaris Partners each hold more than 15 percent of the company before the offering. Google Ventures -- the unit of Alphabet Inc. that goes by GV for short -- has also bought private shares, along with Gates and Khosla Ventures.

Rodger Novak, chief executive officer of Basel, Switzerland-based Crispr Therapeutics Ltd., has said he would consider an IPO this year. Both companies have said their first in-human trials won’t start until 2017. Other closely-held gene editing firms include Intellia Therapeutics Inc. and Poseida Therapeutics Inc. Bayer AG and Crispr Therapeutics also started a joint venture in December with a $335 million investment from Bayer.

Editas intends to use about $15 million to $20 million of the proceeds for preclinical studies and clinical trials of its lead program in Leber congenital amaurosis, an inherited form of progressive blindness, according to the filing. As much as $22 million of the net proceeds will be used for preclinical studies in the company’s collaboration with Juno Therapeutics Inc., a developer of cancer therapies.

The company hasn’t generated revenue from product sales and said it doesn’t expect to "for the forseeable future." The company saw $837,000 in revenue from its collaboration with Juno and posted a net loss of $60.3 million in the first nine months of 2015.

New Wave

While biotech IPOs had slowed in the second half of 2015 -- no IPOs priced in December -- there may be a new wave to come this year. Alongside Editas, four other biotech companies also filed to go public on Monday. The timing coincides with JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s health care conference this month, when industry folk and investors descend on San Francisco to hear company presentations.

Corvus Pharmaceuticals Inc., a cancer drugmaker, also filed its IPO prospectus Monday with a $115 million placeholder amount, according to a filing. Corvus was started by Richard Miller, former CEO of Pharmacyclics Inc., which was sold to AbbVie Inc. last year for $21 billion. Also filing on Monday were Audentes Therapeutics Inc. for an $86.3 million offering, Reata Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $80 million and Syndax Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $86.3 million.

Health software company Tabula Rasa HealthCare Inc. also filed Monday with a placeholder of $115 million.

Editas plans to list on the Nasdaq under the ticker "EDIT." Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan are leading the offering.

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