- Arbutus Biopharma Corp. said on Monday it will receive $116 million in new funding from its largest shareholder Roivant Sciences Ltd., reinforcing the biopharma's capital position for further development of its pipeline of hepatitis B treatments.
- Roivant, which currently owns 29% of Arbutus, will purchase convertible preferred shares that will be converted into common stock in four years' time, taking Roivant's stake up to 49%.
- "This financing meaningfully extends Arbutus’ operating runway to enable the generation of important clinical data for multiple pipeline programs," said Mark Murray, CEO of the Vancouver, Canada-headquartered biopharma. Arbutus previously estimated in June it would have enough cash resources to fund operations for at least 12 months.
Shares in Arbutus have gained in value in recent weeks, following some encouraging clinical results for its lead candidate as well as the recent success of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc.'s rare disease drug patisiran — which uses delivery technology licensed from Arbutus.
The investment from Roivant gives Arbutus additional resources to put behind clinical development of its hepatitis B programs, including two drugs currently in the pre-clinical stage.
Arbutus hopes to move both of those agents into human testing next year, with the ultimate goal of testing different combinations against the hepatitis B virus. Additional cash will also help fund a new study of Arbutus lead candidate ARB-1467, currently planned to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.
Perhaps more interesting, though, is the work Roivant and Arbutus plan to undertake together. Collaborating with Roivant will allow Arbutus to tap the platform company's expanding infrastructure, freeing Arbutus to focus on its R&D work, explained Murray.
Roivant, for example, has greater scale when it comes to negotiating with contract research organizations (CROs). That backing gives Arbutus the chance to "plug into the system and get preferred pricing on manufacturing or relationships with CROs that would be difficult otherwise," Murray said.
Roivant is best known for its unorthodox approach to drug development. Its CEO, Vivek Ramaswamy, hunts for value among the cast-off projects and jettisoned drugs from pharma pipelines, spinning promising assets off into satellite biotech companies. While the strategy took a major hit with the failure of Axovant's Alzheimer's hopeful interpirdine last week, Roivant still has an impressive line-up of drug development talent.
That experience could benefit Arbutus as it looks for new ways to maximize the value of its delivery technology. The biopharma has developed two systems that can be used to deliver therapeutics based on RNA interference, messenger RNA or gene manipulation.
Alnylam uses Arbutus lipid nanoparticle technology for delivery of its lead candidate patisiran and the recent success of that drug in Phase 3 helps to validates the system's promise as a platform.
Now, with additional cash from Roivant, Arbutus has the financial breathing room to look for new opportunities for that technology outside of its deal with Alnylam, Murray said.