MicroRNA delivery specialist Microlin Bio nears $30 million IPO

Microlin Bio, a developer of microRNA treatments for cancer, is expected to launch its $30 million IPO on the Nasdaq this week. Delays and share dilution have taken some of the shine off the event, and a spate of recent stumbles by other biotechs suggest the launch date is not guaranteed, but investor enthusiasm will ultimately hinge on the fate of the company's proprietary nanoparticle delivery technology.

The biotech has licensed about 100 microRNA-related patents from Ohio State University, as well as the QTsome drug delivery technology. Both are employed in the company's early-stage therapies and diagnostics for lung, ovarian, colorectal and prostate cancer. According to the biotech's January S-1 with the SEC, microRNA are naturally occurring RNA molecules that do not encode proteins, but regulate gene expression and biological pathways.

Microlin believes the QTsome technology, developed by an Ohio State professor, will enable it to successfully utilize microRNA for cancer treatment. During transport, the therapeutic microRNA (or microRNA inhibitor) is surrounded by a bilayer consisting of neutral lipids, those that are permanently positively charged and tertiary amino-cationic lipids that become positively charged once the pH falls below 5.5, which occurs inside the acidic endosomes that transport materials through cells' cytoplasm. The change in the tertiary lipid's charge facilitates release of the active ingredient, Microlin's website says.

The biotech clearly feels that this novel delivery mechanism gives it a competitive advantage. An antimicroRNA therapy similar to Microlin's antimicroRNA (AMT) candidate for lung cancer is being developed by Regulus and Sanofi ($SNY), according to the S-1. "In comparison, our antimiR-21 AMT drug candidate, Lumiralin, incorporates the proprietary delivery technology based on QTsome lipid nanoparticles and we believe is likely to be much more potent," the company says. Other advantages of QTsome cited include its ease of manufacture and fewer side effects due to a lower dosage requirement.

The 6-million-share offering was to commence last week at a price of between $4.50 and $5.50 a share, says IPO research firm Renaissance Capital. The projected market cap of $51 million is down from the $76 million estimate in April, when Microlin said it would issue 2.7 million shares at a price of $10 to $12.

Microlin has not generated any revenue so far and says the $30 million will enable the company to fund itself through 2015. The company is looking to join a slew of other biotechs who cashed in on the hot IPO market. Startlingly, 29 life sciences outfits went public in the first quarter of this year, taking home $2.1 billion. But five other biotechs were in the same boat as Microlin last week and had to postpone their IPO, suggesting the market is slowing down.

- read the S-1 with the SEC
- here's Renaissance Capital's take (and here's their explanation of the transaction's delay)