Artiva Biotherapeutics has been in a holding pattern for the past 18 months. The biotechnology company registered plans to pursue an initial public offering in April 2021, but never followed through to price its shares.
One and a half years later, the San Diego, Calif.-based company is the latest biotech to concede to the realities of a weak market, withdrawing its planned offering in a Nov. 1 filing. Instead, the company on Thursday announced a partnership with German biotech Affimed to co-develop a natural killer, or NK, cell therapy.
“This collaboration differentiates Artiva in what is a very crowded NK cell field,” Fred Aslan, Artiva’s CEO, said in a Thursday call with investors. “In my opinion, as the field matures, we will all be judged by the quality of the therapies we bring to market and the partners we attract.”
The partnership will pair Artiva’s lead candidate, AB-101, with an Affimed drug candidate in a clinical trial in Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Artiva and Affimed expect to ask for regulatory clearance to begin clinical testing in the first half of 2023, the companies said.
Under the deal, the companies will develop their combination treatment on a “co-exclusive” basis, with Affimed funding clinical trial costs through Phase 2 testing. Affimed would also receive two-thirds of any revenue earned from cancer drugs developed in the deal, while Artiva would get the remaining one-third.
Artiva’s therapies are built around NK cells, a powerful immune cell that’s part of the body’s frontline defense against foreign pathogens. These types of therapies have shown promise in fighting some blood cancers in small studies.
In 2020, early data from a study of 11 patients at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston showed donor-derived NK cells could be used to attack cancer without the side effects commonly associated with patient-derived CAR-T therapy.
Artiva’s NK therapy AB-101 is already in a Phase 1 study for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the company says it’s nearing human trials for a second drug candidate for solid tumors.
The deal extends a prior two-year, preclinical research collaboration between the companies to develop a combination therapy for patients with lymphoma whose disease doesn’t respond to other treatments.
Affimed’s contribution is a bispecific antibody called AFM13 that binds to proteins on lymphoma cells and on NK cells. The company’s been studying it in combination with MD Anderson’s NK cell therapy and released updated results from a Phase 1/2 clinical trial on Thursday.
Since launching in 2020, Artiva has raised nearly $200 million in venture funding. In January, it drew the attention of Merck & Co., which paid the fledgling company $30 million to collaborate on CAR-NK cell therapies targeting antigens associated with solid tumors.
In sharp contrast to years past, there have been few IPOs of biotech companies in 2022. Just 19 companies have reached Wall Street so far this year, compared to 100 by the same time in 2021, according to BioPharma Dive data.
Artiva offered no details about why it canceled its IPO plans. The company did not respond to BioPharma Dive’s request for comment.
Competition in NK cell therapy development is growing, meanwhile. Companies such as Fate Therapeutics and Nkarta are advancing their own NK cell treatments, both with clinical trials underway. Fate is partnered with Johnson & Johnson, which in 2020 signed a $100 million deal to develop CAR-NK and CAR-T therapies.
Affimed’s stock closed Thursday trading up nearly 10%.