Omeros Plans to Test Waters with First Washington IPO in Two Years, Sources Say

8/26/09Follow @xconomy

Omeros, the Seattle biotech company developing a treatment to help people recover faster from knee surgery, is preparing a renewed push for an initial public offering this fall, possibly as soon as next month, Xconomy has learned from people familiar with the matter.

The company first showed an interest in going public back in January 2008, and if it can pull this off now, it could be the first IPO from a Washington company in more than two years, since Kirkland, WA-based Clearwire went public in March 2007. A spokeswoman for Omeros declined to confirm the company’s plans, citing an ongoing regulatory quiet period.

Lots of ink has been spilled about how the IPO market has been shut down by the recession, but there have been small signs of life recently that have to encourage many companies chomping at the bit to go public. Nashville, TN-based Cumberland Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CPIX), the first pharmaceutical company to go public in almost two years, raised $85 million earlier this month by selling 5 million shares at $17 apiece. Investors haven’t lost their shirts yet, since Cumberland stock closed today at $16.87. Also, while few people seem to have noticed, biotech firms have actually seen improving demand from investors this year in general. Biotech companies raised $8.3 billion in the first six months of this year, about 41 percent more than they did a year earlier, according to Signals magazine, an influential online trade publication.

“The window is opening again for IPOs,” says Michael Butler, chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital, who’s not underwriting the Omeros deal. “In this environment, the quality of the companies going out is high, and the pricing is reasonable. The institutions want to see IPOs happen, and companies want to get out.”

At least one other Washington company, Seattle-based InfrastruX Group, has recently filed paperwork to go public. It’s a spinoff from Puget Sound Energy that provides construction services to gas and electricity companies.

So what would investors be getting if they buy up shares in Omeros? The company has been around the Seattle biotech scene since 1994, had 67 employees at the end of May, and has no marketed products. It has spent more than $102 million of investors’ money since inception, according to its most recent regulatory filing in June with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company was co-founded by CEO Greg Demopulos, an orthopedic surgeon who received training at Stanford University and Duke University.

The company’s goal is to develop proprietary low-dose combinations of existing drugs, and deliver them directly into a point on the body that’s undergoing surgery, to reduce inflammation, pain, and other complications that prolong recovery time. Omeros’s lead drug candidate is in the final stage of clinical trials for patients undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery—a procedure that 2.6 million people undergo each year in the U.S., according to market research cited by Omeros.

The drug combination, dubbed OMS103HP, is currently being tested in a final-stage clinical trial with 1,040 patients. If ongoing trials are successful, Omeros plans to ask the FDA for approval to start marketing the drug in the second half of 2010, according to the most recent regulatory filing.

“We estimate that there are large markets for each of our PharmacoSurgery product candidates and believe that OMS103HP alone provides a multi-billion dollar market opportunity,” the company said in the filing.

Omeros lists two other drugs in its pipeline for reducing the complications of surgery—one for eye surgeries, and another for urinary tract procedures. The company also has programs in much earlier stages of development for a variety of neurological diseases, namely addiction, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Some of that work was obtained through the company’s acquisition of Seattle-based Nura in September 2006.

Omeros first tried to go public in January 2008, when it aimed to raise $115 million. Besides getting more capital to fuel its drug development pipeline, an IPO would provide all-important liquidity to a broad network of angel and venture investors who have stuck with the company for years.

Demopulos himself is listed as the company’s largest shareholder with a 16.3 percent stake, while Arch Venture Partners holds 5.1 percent, and Aravis General Partner has 3.4 percent. Smaller stakes are held by biotech pioneer Leroy Hood (106,603 shares) and Washington Research Foundation chairman Tom Cable (194,163 shares), according to the regulatory filing.

If successful, Omeros hopes to be listed under the ticker symbol “OMER.” The offering would be underwritten by Deutsche Bank Securities, Wedbush Pacific Growth Life Sciences, Leerink Swann, and Needham & Company, according to the filing.

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