Seattle’s Athira Pharma files for IPO to fund quest for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s breakthroughs – GeekWire
Athira Pharma is aiming to go public.
The Seattle biotech filed initial IPO paperwork Wednesday, a surprising move that would give the company additional capital to develop its therapies for brain diseases.
Founded in 2011, Athira is in late-stage development for its lead therapeutic candidate called NDX-1017. The drug could halt or reverse the nerve damage that causes Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses including Parkinson’s and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It uses regenerative technology that rebuilds connections between neurons.
Athira in December presented what it described as positive initial results from a clinical trial that included patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
The company, previously known as M3 Biotechnology, is led by Dr. Leen Kawas, a 35-year-old entrepreneur originally from Jordan. The foundation of Athira began while Kawas was earning her Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University nearly a decade ago.
“The potential of the technology is huge,” Kawas, who co-founded Athira with WSU researchers Joseph Harding and Jay Wright, said earlier this year.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, with that number projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. There are as many as 35 million cases worldwide, according to Athira.
In its IPO paperwork, Athira reports a net loss of $5.2 million in 2019, and a loss of $3.8 million through the first six months of 2020.
The company notes in its filing, “We do not have any products approved for commercial sale, and we have not generated any revenues related to our products since inception.” That reflects the traditional life cycle of biotech companies, which commonly invest in research and development for years before bringing products to market.
Athira would be the third Washington state company to go public this year, following health tech startup Accolade and marketing startup ZoomInfo. It would be the first Seattle biotech to go public since Adaptive Biotechnologies IPO’d last year.
The market for biotech IPOs is red-hot this year. Tech IPOs are also on the rise despite the ongoing economic crisis. Five software startups filed for an IPO on Monday alone. Many companies have traded higher since debuting on the public markets over the past several months.
Athira just raised capital from private investors, reeling in a $85 million Series B round in June. Total funding to date is north of $100 million.
In a June interview with GeekWire, Kawas and Athira COO Mark Litton acknowledged the unusually large size of the Series B round, particularly for a 17-person company trying to develop therapies for brain disease. “It really validates what we have done,” said Litton, a veteran biotech exec who previously co-founded Alder Biopharmaceuticals, another Seattle company that went public in 2014 and was acquired in 2019.
Kawas said previously that the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted Athira, which avoided layoffs and is hiring. Though the company listed COVID-19 under its risk factors in the IPO filing, noting that the pandemic could cause delays in clinical trials or FDA approval timelines.
The company’s largest shareholder is Perceptive Life Sciences, which led the Series B round and has a 11.6% stake, followed by RTW Investments at 10.9%. Kawas is the third-largest shareholder with a 9.4% stake.
Other backers include Viking Global Investors, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, Franklin Templeton, Rock Springs Capital, LifeSci Venture Partners, Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company), Highside Capital Management, Logos Capital, funds managed by Janus Henderson Investors, Sofinnova Investments, and Avidity Partners.
Athira has $85.1 million in cash and cash equivalents. It plans to trade on NASDAQ under the symbol ATHA. Kawas holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Jordan. She won Startup CEO of the Year honors at the GeekWire Awards last year.