Biotech company Calithera wakes up sleepy IPO market

Bay Area biotech livened up the August market doldrums with an initial public filing from South San Francisco-based Calithera Biosciences.

The company, which makes clinical-stage drugs for cancer treatment, breathes new life into the IPO market, which came to a standstill last week without a single IPO pricing. In its filing on Monday, Calithera said it plans to raise $80 million — although that number will likely change when the company prices shares closer to its first day of trading. The company will trade on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol CALA.

Founded in 2010, Calithera focuses on discovering and developing small-molecule drugs that target tumor metabolism and tumor immunology — two emerging new fields for cancer drug research — to suppress the growth of cancer cells, and ultimately, it hopes, cure people with the disease.

Biotech has been one of the hottest IPO sectors this year, and venture capitalists have also been investing more heavily in startup health-focused companies. Earlier this month, Fremont-based WaferGen Bio-systems,which does genome sequencing, became the 199th health care tech deal to price year-to-date, maintaining health care as the biggest sector of the year in terms of deal count, according to market research firm Ipreo.

Like many biotech companies, Calithera doesn’t make money and runs a very expensive operation. It’s expenses for research and development during the first half of this year topped $7.5 million, an 84 percent increase from the $4 million it spent during the first six months of 2012. During the first six months of 2014, the company had a net loss of $9.6 million — nearly double its loss from the same period for 2013.

Its deficit as of June 20 is $39.8 million.

“We have incurred significant operating losses since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur substantial operating losses for the foreseeable future,” Calithera wrote in the financial filing. If the company can’t raise the money it needs from the IPO, it “would force us to delay, reduce or eliminate our product development programs or commercialization efforts.”

Heather Somerville Heather Somerville (222 Posts)

Heather Somerville is a business reporter covering venture capital and startups for the Bay Area News Group.