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LENZ Therapeutics, Graphite Bio enter merger agreement

News
Article

According to the companies, the merger creates a NASDAQ-listed, late clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on advancing LENZ Therapeutics’ lead assets for the treatment of presbyopia.

merger agreement between LENZ Therapeutics and Graphite bio - Image credit: Adobe Stock/©Natee Meepian

Image credit: Adobe Stock/Natee Meepian

LENZ Therapeutics and Graphite Bio Inc. announced they have entered into a definitive merger agreement to combine the companies in an all-stock transaction.

According to the companies, the lead programs of the combined company will address presbyopia, the inevitable loss of near vision that impacts the daily lives of nearly all people over the age of 45. The combined company is expected to trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “LENZ.”

In connection with the merger, Graphite Bio has entered into a subscription agreement for a PIPE financing that is expected to close concurrently with the completion of the merger of $53.5 million, with a syndicate of healthcare investors led by LENZ’s existing investors and including participation from new investors.1

Moreover, according to the companies, the merger is subject to stockholder approval of both companies, the effectiveness of a registration statement to be filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to register the securities to be issued in connection with the merger, and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.

According to the companies’ news release, with the cash expected from both companies at closing and the proceeds of the concurrent PIPE financing, the combined company is expected to have approximately $225 million of cash or cash equivalents. Graphite Bio is expected to contribute $115 million to the combined entity and expects to pay a dividend to Graphite Bio shareholders of approximately $60 million at the close of the transaction.

Once the agreement is closed, some of the leading investors in the combined company will include Versant Ventures, RA Capital Management, Alpha Wave Global, Point72, Samsara BioCapital, Sectoral Asset Management, RTW Investments, and others.1

The companies also noted that it is likely the net proceeds from the merger and concurrent financing will allow the combined company to continue to build infrastructure and successfully commercialize LENZ’s lead product candidate, subject to successful completion of the ongoing Phase 3 trials, New Drug Application (NDA) submission and subsequent FDA approval.

Eef Schimmelpennink, president and CEO of LENZ Therapeutics, said he was pleased to announce the merger between the companies, allowing them to create a publicly traded company focused on the advancement of LENZ’s lead programs, LNZ100 and LNZ101 for the treatment of presbyopia.

“This pivotal change comes at an important time for the company as we gear up for the readout of the Phase 3 CLARITY trials in the second quarter of 2024,” Schimmelpennink said in the news release. “We believe that a once-daily pharmacological eye drop that can effectively and safely improve near vision throughout the full workday, without the need for reading glasses, will be a highly attractive commercial product with an estimated US market opportunity in excess of $3 billion. We have assembled an executive team with extensive clinical, commercial and operational experience to commercialize such a product and become the category leader.”

Kim Drapkin, CEO of Graphite Bio, echoed his sentiments in the news release.

“Graphite Bio ran a thorough and strategic process and we believe that this transaction represents the company’s commitment to delivering value to the Graphite stockholders,” Drapkin said. “LENZ Therapeutics is strongly positioned with Phase 3 lead program, addressing a very large target market with near-term, high potential, value-inflecting milestones and a well-credentialed management team to lead the combined company.”

Pre-merger Graphite Bio stockholders are expected to own approximately 35% of the combined company and pre-merger LENZ Therapeutics stockholders are expected to own approximately 65% of the combined company upon the closing of the merger, prior to the additional PIPE financing transaction. The percentage of the combined company that each company’s former stockholders are expected to own may be adjusted based on Graphite Bio’s net cash at closing.

The transaction has been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of both companies and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2024, subject to customary closing conditions, including the approvals by the stockholders of each company.

LENZ Therapeutics’ product candidates

LENZ Therapeutics’ initial focus is the treatment of presbyopia. In the United States, the estimated population who suffer from this condition, known as presbyopes, is 128 million, almost four times the number of individuals suffering from dry eye disease and three times the number of individuals suffering from childhood myopia, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma combined.1

According to the company, it believes that a once-daily pharmacological eye drop that can effectively and safely improve near vision throughout the full workday, without the need for reading glasses, will be a highly attractive commercial product with an estimated U.S. market opportunity in excess of $3 billion.

Moreover, LNZ100 and LNZ101, are preservative-free, single-use, once-daily eye drops containing aceclidine and aceclidine plus brimonidine, respectively. These product candidates are differentiated based on rapid onset, degree and duration of near vision improvement, as well as their ability to be used across the full age range of presbyopes, from their mid-40s well into their mid-70s, as well as the broadest refractive range while avoiding blurry distance vision.

Aceclidine is a miotic, a small molecule that causes pupil contraction, creating a pinhole effect that improves near vision. Unlike other miotics, such as pilocarpine and carbachol, aceclidine’s mechanism of action (MOA) is pupil-selective, meaning it can reduce the pupil size below the desired 2 millimeters without overstimulating the ciliary muscles that can cause a myopic shift that can impair distance vision.1

The company noted in its news release aceclidine’s MOA was demonstrated in the Phase 2 INSIGHT trial (NCT05294328), where both LZN100 and LNZ101 achieved their primary endpoint of three-lines or greater near vision improvement without losing one or more lines in distance vision, with a responder rate of 71% (p < 0.0001) and 56% (p < 0.0001), respectively, compared to 6% for vehicle.

According to the news release, responders were able to read small text up-close without any visual aid, with both product candidates and demonstrated rapid onset with 73% (p < 0.0001) and 62% (p < 0.0001) having three-lines or greater improvement in near visual acuity within 30 minutes for LNZ100 and LNZ101, respectively, compared to 8% for vehicle, and sustained the statistically significant three-lines or greater improvement in near visual acuity over an extended duration of 10 hours post-treatment, the last measured timepoint. Both LNZ100 and LNZ101 were well-tolerated, with no serious drug-related adverse events. Additionally, their active ingredients have favorable tolerability profiles that have been well-established empirically as both aceclidine and brimonidine have been used as a treatment for glaucoma.

LENZ also noted in its news release it is currently conducting a trio of Phase 3 multi-center, double-masked, randomized, active and vehicle-controlled, US-based efficacy and safety trials for LNZ100 and LNZ101. To date, all sites are activated and the two six-week efficacy trials, CLARITY-1 and CLARITY-2, are fully enrolled and over 95% enrolled, respectively and the six-month safety trial, CLARITY-3, is fully enrolled. The CLARITY trials are enrolling participants ranging from 45 to 75 years old, the same age range used in the INSIGHT trial, with a refractive range of -4.0 diopters (D) spherical equivalent (SE) to +1.0D SE. Similar to the INSIGHT trial, the primary efficacy endpoint in the CLARITY-1 and CLARITY-2 trials is the percentage of subjects who achieve three-lines or greater improvement in near vision, but at three hours post-treatment rather than one hour post-treatment, comparing to brimonidine and vehicle, respectively.

LENZ expects to report Phase 3 topline results from the CLARITY trials in the second quarter of 2024 with a potential submission of an NDA for at least 1 product candidate in mid-2024. LENZ’s objective is to commercialize the approved product that will most effectively meet the needs of the widest range of presbyopes and best create loyalty and value based on an “all eyes, all day” brand mission.

Reference:
1. A B. Lenz Therapeutics and graphite bio announce merger agreement. LENZ Therapeutics. November 15, 2023. Accessed November 17, 2023. https://lenz-tx.com/2023/11/lenz-therapeutics-and-graphite-bio-announce-merger-agreement/.
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