Blank cheque company merger creates cancer specialist Vincera

LifeSci Acquisition – a so-called ‘blank cheque’ company – has announced a $60 million merger with Vincera Pharma that will focus on developing cancer drugs.

The combined company will be called Vincera and will focus its initial energies on a clinical-stage PTEFb/CDK9 inhibitor and preclinical bioconjugation platform, both licensed from German group Bayer.

Vincera’s chief executive is Ahmed Hamdy – a founder of Acerta Pharma that was acquired by AstraZeneca in 2016 in a $7 billion deal focused on cancer drug Calquence (acalabrutinib).

He will be joined in the management team by Raquel Izumi, another Acerta founder who will serve as chief operating officer.

Blank cheque or ‘special purpose acquisition companies’ (SPACs) that are set up with investor funding to bolt-on an R&D pipeline are common in other industries, but relatively uncommon in life sciences.

This is the latest in a recent clutch of biotech SPACs. The first closed in late 2019, involving Chardan Healthcare Acquisition and BiomX, a microbiome specialist, and since then five others have been announced, including Vesper Healthcare Acquisition which was unveiled earlier this month and is being led by former Allergan chief executive Brent Saunders.

Supporters of the approach say it can provide a quicker route to a public market debut, something that can take months or years via the traditional route of waiting for an initial public offering (IPO).

The SPAC goes public itself, ahead of buying the companies or assets it wants to develop with the funds raised during that process.

LifeSci Acquisition raised $66 million in its IPO – which is now held in a trust account – and post-merger Vincera will have around $60 million to fund its clinical and preclinical development pipeline. It will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol VINC.

Lead drug VIP152 has been tested in to phase 1 trials in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), initially as an intravenous therapy but with an oral version in the discovery phase.

The drug has promising data in hand in diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL), a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and will also be tested in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) as well as solid tumours.

Blocking PTEFb leads to the depletion of mRNA coding for two well-established genes linked to cancer – MYC and MCL1 – which have traditionally been difficult to target with drug compounds.

Vincera claims VIP152 is the most selective inhibitor in the clinic, which could give it an advantage over rival drugs in the class coming through the industry pipeline from the likes of AstraZeneca (AZD4573), Merck & Co (dinaciclib), Tolero (alvocidib) and others.

The bioconjugation platform is headed by small-molecule drug conjugate VIP236 for solid tumours, and two antibody-drug conjugates – VIP943 and VIP924 – for haematological malignancies. Those are all in early preclinical development.

After closing, investors in Vincera will include Acuta Capital, RTW Investments, Surveyor Capital, Logos Capital, EcoR1 Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Boxer Capital, Monashee Investment Management, Altium Capital, and Affinity Asset Advisors.

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