Spotlight: How SPACs Can Fight Cancer


Spotlight: How SPACs Can Fight Cancer

Welcome to SPACInsider’s first Spotlight feature! In this series we will seek to illuminate a particular trend in SPACs that deserves a greater focus. This week, we will be looking at Chamath Palihapitya’s second biotech SPAC, Social Capital Suvretta II (NYSE:DNAB) and the oncology market, with research compiled by SPACInsider contributor Anthony Sozzi.

CAR-T Therapies

The task of treating cancer – the second greatest cause of death in the US – has changed by leaps and bounds in the past decade. Oncology researchers have discovered over 200 types and subtypes of cancers over this period and therapies to treat these many types has become tailored drugs to each unique each case. Total costs for cancer treatment in the US is now expected to balloon from $183 billion in 2018 to $246 billion by 2026.

Already in the public markets, companies are already looking to take advantage of being the first to develop safe, and effective treatments for cancers using CAR-T therapies, tumor growth inhibitors, and gene sequencing.

CAR-T therapies work by using immune cells derived from the patient and modified to be better cancer hunters before being returned to the patient’s blood stream to find and target tumors. This approach is new, but therapies could potentially stand in as a replacement for chemotherapy in a large proportion of cases.

Social Capital Suvretta II specifically name-checked CAR-T therapies in its prospectus, but noted many are “likely still in their infancy in terms of impact.” That hasn’t stopped SPACs before, and given that the chemotherapy represents as much as 40% of all cancer spending, betting on its challenger in the marketplace seems wise.

CAR-T therapies have the other advantage of being a more targeted attack at cancer cells that would not come with the broader tissue damage that chemotherapy brings. If CAR-T therapies could prove to be cheaper to the consumer, this would also be a major improvement. A patient requiring four rounds of chemo in the US could see bills up to $48,000 for these radiation treatments alone.

Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ:BLUE) is looking to finish Phase I trials in the coming year for their CAR-T therapy targeting multiple myeloma. For this process, it has teamed up wtih Celgene, which was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) in 2019. Bluebird has its own internal study into CAR-T therapies but are only in Pre-Clinical stage of the process.

Biotech firm Wugen also has a CAR-T candidate in Phase I/II and just this week closed a $172 million funding round to advance its broader pipeline. Arcellx is in the fight as well with a CAR-T treatment entering Phase II and it has Suvretta connections with the firm having invested in Arcellx’s $115 million Series C in April.

Tumor Growth Inhibitors

Another avenue of attack biotech firms have leveled at cancer is with tumor growth inhibitors. These have been around for years now, and companies are starting to perfect their craft, such as Exelixis (NASDAQ:EXEL), which already has three drugs in production. While Exelixis’s therapies are targeting thyroid, kidney, and liver cancer, they have about one hundred other therapies in Phases I to III.

As mentioned above, researchers are constantly finding new cancer types and devising bespoke therapies for them, so the biotech space is littered with firms advancing individual tumor growth inhibitors looking to cut in big pharma’s hold on the market.


On the other side of the cancer fight are data-driven solutions such as analyzing genetic material and machine learning predictive analyses, which are paving a way for new treatments. This can be looked at as the most critical part in the process because without being able to understand the data, scientists and researching would find it much harder to develop individual therapies for their patients.

This is another area where Social Capital Survetta II has some focused expertise. Director Dr. Sapna Srivastava also serves as CFO for Abide Therapeutics and Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ:NTLA) and sits on the Boards of Talaris Therapeutics (NASDAQ:TALS), SQZ Biotech (NYSE:SQZ), AsclepiX Therapeutics, and Aura Biosciences. Before joining Intellia, Dr. Srivastava was a senior biotechnology analyst at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and ThinkEquity Partners. Recently, Intellia Therapeutics has had a breakthrough in being able to successfully edit genes inside the body.

Since March 2021, Dr. Srivastava has also served as the CFO of eGenesis, a gene editing and genome engineering company focused on the development of human transplantable organs, tissues and cells.

For a time, genomics engines were among the most highly performing SPAC deals and those companies continue to trade relatively well. Nautilus (NASDAQ:NAUT) has slipped below $10 since closing its combination with ARYA III last month. But, Quantum-SI (NASDAQ:QSI) finished Thursday trading at $11.86 having closed its deal with HighCape at about the same time. CM Life Sciences (NASDAQ:CMLF) is trading similarly well, closing yesterday at $11.50 as it works to complete is combination with Sema4.

Given that Chamath Palihapitiya and his team tend to take the road less traveled, they may be drawn to some companies doing unique things abroad. MedGenome is based in Foster City, California, but the wealth of its database comes from its collaboration with about 500 hospitals in India. This grants it access to a broad trove of samples, data and patient records that would be difficult to achieve in the US due to HIPAA restrictions.

Its proprietary cancer immunotherapy solution OncoPept combines tumor-derived genomic and transcriptomic data to map each tumor’s molecular features and predict personalized cancer immunotherapy combinations and treatment options.

Moving forward, the cancer treatment space is one that is likely to be disrupted on the regulatory side as well. Last week, the Biden administration announced an executive order expanding anti-trust powers and priorities, tasking agencies with finding ways of shaking up competition in a number of different industries. This order took direct aim at the healthcare market and drug developers in particular for charging high prices on long-existing generic treatments.

The average American diagnosed with cancer currently faces treatment options that cost on average about $150,000 per year and 11 of the 12 cancer drugs approved by the FDA in 2012 were priced above $100,000 per year. Government action against this kind of pricing may harm the profit prospects for incoming biotech developers, but pressure on consolidation and competition are likely to affect the incumbents much more and leave room for the next generation of firms to take their share.