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Tackling Sickle Cell, Global Blood Therapeutics Joins IPO Queue

Xconomy San Francisco — 

With an important clinical trial underway, South San Francisco, CA-based Global Blood Therapeutics hopes to join the ranks of public biotech companies. It has filed for an IPO worth as much as $115 million, although that target could change as an offering draws closer.

The news comes six months after the firm said it raised $48 million in a Series B round, in part from investors whose presence often signals a private company’s desire to go public.

Helmed by Bay Area biotech veteran Ted Love, Global Blood is developing treatments for sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia), a genetic blood disorder that in the U.S. affects 1 in 365 African Americans because of their African descent. About 100,000 Americans in all have the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

It causes red blood cells, our bodies’ oxygen carriers that are usually round and healthy, to curl into sickle shapes. The malformed cells clump up and block blood flow, which also decreases oxygen delivery.

Other than blood transfusions and bone marrow transplant, there is no treatment for the underlying cause. Patients take palliative care for some the symptoms, which include chronic pain and bouts of extreme pain, anemia, infections, lung damage, stroke, and more.

Because of its genetic nature, the disease is among the early clinical targets of gene therapy, with intriguing early results coming recently from Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE). (Global Blood’s major backer, Third Rock Ventures, was also a key venture backer of Bluebird.)

But Global Blood is developing more conventional chemical drugs. Its lead is GBT-440, which is in the middle of Phase 1/2 testing on both healthy volunteers and sickle cell patients. The trial began earlier this year. As of July 6, Global Blood had given 48 people the drug, most of them healthy volunteers. It plans to give the drug to between 96 and 128 people total for the trial, according to its regulatory filing. The filing says that so far there have been no deaths or serious side effects reported.

Beyond sickle cell, the company has its eyes on other blood-related disorders. As of March 31 the company had nearly $46 million in cash on hand.

Even with the investment from so-called “crossover” hedge funds six months ago, original investor Third Rock owns 63 percent of Global Blood. The only other shareholder with more than 5 percent ownership is Fidelity, with 13 percent. Other Third Rock portfolio companies that have gone public during the long biotech bull run are Bluebird, Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO), Sage Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SAGE), Blueprint Medicines (NASDAQ: BPMC), Eleven Biotherapeutics (NASDAQ: EBIO), Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN), and Foundation Medicine (NASDAQ: FMI).

Global Blood plans to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “GBT.”