The new CEO at Morphogenesis, a Tampa clinical-stage company that’s developing novel therapies to treat cancer, is determined to take the company public within two years.
James Bianco, a serial entrepreneur in the health care space who has led multiple companies to raise millions, never had plans of uprooting his life in Seattle to Tampa until a recruiter on LinkedIn reached out to him last year about an opportunity to become the CEO at Morphogenesis. The company, founded in Tampa by Patricia Lawman, is in the process of developing drugs that combat deadly skin cancer in patients and works closely with Moffitt Cancer Center.
“It seemed like a great opportunity, but it wasn’t enough for me to leave Seattle until I started to meet with the team between February and June. I saw the fire in their belly and the great cutting-edge immunotherapies they were developing that would give people another chance to live,” he said.
Bianco founded the Seattle biotechnology company CTI BioPharma and spent $2.1 billion to develop cancer drugs, he stepped down as the CEO in 2016. Before creating CTI BioPharma, he was part of the research division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He was also previously the director of the bone marrow transplant program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Since formally taking on the new role as CEO of Morphogenesis in July 2021, he and the team have been hyper-focused on the Food and Drug Administration process and garnering funding for their research.
Today, the company has raised $21.6 million in its Series B round. Local philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel and his family’s office have been the lead investors, with Patel investing over $5 million along with his family’s office investing over $15 million. However, the company has several new investments in the hopper that will officially close the round.
The funding will go toward a new phased study for a skin cancer drug with hopes of it receiving FDA approval.
Bianco said Morphogenesis also has an S1 prepared.
“The reason we want to take Morphogenesis public is because of the access to capital,” he said. “Tampa isn’t known as a biotech hub, so it’s hard to attract institutional money here. We were fortunate that the Patels have a successful track record and believe in us.”
Bianco is confident Morphogenesis can become a public company by the end of this year or first the quarter of 2023.
He said there was a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) option he was pursuing. However, the SPAC market spiraled, but there’s a reverse acquisition option, allowing Morphogenesis to potentially pair up with a public company – an option Bianco is keeping in mind.
While Bianco is helping lead Morphogenesis, Lawman continues to have a major role in the company, serving on the board of directors, and has stayed on as a consultant.