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October 24, 2016

Benitec, NantVentures Launch Oncology R&D Collaboration

  • Benitec Biopharma said today it will launch an oncology R&D collaboration with NantVentures, the private investment arm of the NantWorks umbrella of nine companies founded by Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D. The value of the alliance was not disclosed.

    Under the collaboration, which will have support from NantWorks, Benitec plans to lead clinical development and preclinical evaluation of several cancer candidates. Benitec said it would lead clinical development of a Phase II gene-silencing candidate in an undisclosed solid tumor indication for which the asset has already demonstrated clinical proof of concept—as well as launch a DNA-directed RNA interference (ddRNAi) program that represents a second-generation therapeutic for the treatment of this lead clinical indication.

    ddRNAi is Benitec's RNAi platform for silencing unwanted genes. According to the company, ddRNAi has been shown to overcome many side effects associated with small interfering RNA (siRNA), such as toxicity, immune activation, and off-target effects. Rather than a proprietary gene-specific technology or delivery mechanism, Benitec adds, ddRNAi is a platform technology that can be licensed from the company for silencing a variety of disease-associated genes in humans.

    Benitec agreed to immediately place 29,305,819 of its ordinary shares, representing a 19.99% of its existing issued capital, in Nant Capital, giving Nant Capital a post-issue holding of 16.67%. The deal was valued at more than $2.6 million with shares priced at $0.0895, based on a 7-trading-day volume weighted average price, up to the trading day before the companies carried out their share subscription agreement.

    Approval from Benitec shareholders will be sought, the company said, to issue of up to an additional 29,305,819 shares to Nant Capital—a deal that would increase Nant Capital’s stake in Benitec to 28.57%.

    The capital to be raised is intended to fund the collaboration’s clinical programs, as well as Benitec’s existing R&D.

    Benitec said additional details of the collaboration would be released once a formal collaboration agreement is executed—something the company said is targeted to occur on December 30.

    “Benitec will benefit from a strong shareholder who will be supportive and knowledgeable in our technologies and our marketplace,” Benitec CEO Greg West said in a statement. “Through this relationship Benitec will return to the clinic using its ddRNAi technology in collaboration with NantVentures.”

    The company’s last clinical foray ended February 25, when the company ceased development of the hepatitis C candidate TT-034 following the dosing of nine patients in a Phase I/IIa trial. Benitec at the time cited “limited and diminishing partnering interest from pharmaceutical companies” in TT-034 given the time needed to bring the candidate to market and the launch of hepatitis C products by competitors.

    As part of the collaboration agreement, NantVentures Chief Investment officer Jerel A. Banks, M.D., Ph.D, will be appointed to Benitec’s board. Before joining NantVentures, Dr. Banks served as vice president, portfolio manager, and research analyst for the Franklin Biotechnology Discovery Fund at Franklin Templeton Investments.

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