Dive Brief:

  • Precision oncology startup Enliven Therapeutics plans to go public through a newly announced reverse merger with Imara, a Boston-based drugmaker focused on rare diseases.


  • If approved by Imara’s and Enliven’s shareholders, the deal would create a combined company that operates under the latter’s name and works to develop its experimental treatments for cancer. Enliven’s two most advanced drugs are being studied for a form of blood cancer and tumors that test positive for a protein known as “HER2.”


  • Alongside the merger, Enliven intends to raise roughly $165 million in a private financing. It estimates that those funds, plus the cash on hand from both companies, will give the new Enliven about $300 million with which to operate. Enliven said this sum should be enough to keep the company running until early 2026, by which point its drug programs will have gone “through multiple clinical milestones.”

Dive Insight:

The reverse merger is expected to close some time between January and March next year. If it goes through, the deal will mark the end of Imara — one of the spinout companies from Cydan Development, an accelerator focused on drugs for uncommon diseases.

Imara went public in 2020, raising $75 million in the process. But over the last six months, it’s faced several setbacks. In early April, for example, the company said its top drug candidate had failed to show a meaningful benefit to patients in two studies that separately tested it against sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

Those results led Imara to stop developing the drug, called tovinontrine, as a treatment for those two blood disorders and for a type of heart failure. And less than a week later, the company chose to discontinue another one of its programs.

Then, on April 14, Imara disclosed plans to lay off approximately 83% of its staff, leaving it with six full-time employees.

By early September, it had sold off tovinontrine and assets related to that program to Cardurion Pharmaceuticals, a privately held heart drug developer backed by Bain Capital, for about $35 million.

“Following an extensive and thoughtful review of several strategic alternatives, it became clear that the proposed merger with Enliven was a compelling option for our stockholders,” said Rahul Ballal, Imara’s CEO, in a Thursday statement.

For Enliven, the merger offers a speedy path to the public markets at a time when biotechnology companies have run into significant challengesconducting initial public offerings. In that Thursday statement, Sam Kintz, Enliven’s co-founder and CEO, said the deal with Imara comes at a “pivotal moment” for his company, which recently ushered one drug into human testing and expects to have another at that stage soon.

“We expect this transaction to provide Enliven with capital to fund us through multiple key milestones and allow us to explore the potential of our pipeline,” Kintz said.

With the private financing, Enliven said all of its existing investors will participate. Yet, it is new investors that will account for over 60% of the total raised, according to Enliven. Two of those new investors, Fairmount and Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, are co-leading the financing, which is expected to close right after the merger does.