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Gaithersburg-based Maxcyte heads to London for a $15 million public offering

Gaithersburg-based Maxcyte said the London stock exchange offered its best funding option; in the U.S. it would have been a “small fish in a big pond.” (Reuters/Toby Melville)

Maxcyte, a Maryland-based biotechnology company that sells and licenses cell engineering technology to pharmaceutical companies, traveled across the pond this week to become the region’s newest public company.

It raised about $15 million in an initial public offering Tuesday on the London stock exchange. The company plans to use the extra capital for clinical trials of an ovarian cancer treatment it is developing in conjunction with researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The company’s shares, which now trade under the MXCT ticker, were initially priced at 70 pence per share, or about one dollar, but opened trading at 75 pence and closed the day at 76.50, or about $1.09.

The company says it looked at several big-dollar funding options, including more traditional options like Nasdaq and private equity before landing in London. Maxcyte’s take would likely have been much smaller than the typical Nasdaq IPO, where it would have been “a small fish in a big pond,” a company spokesperson said in an email.

Instead, Maxcyte is trading on London’s AIM market, a sort of junior market meant for small and venture-backed companies.

According to chief executive Doug Doerfler, this is the first time the company has raised money from investors in at least six years. Maxcyte was founded in 1999 and reached profitability 10 years later on the back of a medical device that it manufactures and licenses out.

The technology — a device the size of a personal computer that delivers tailored electrical pulses used for cell-modification – is licensed to about 30 partner organizations for between $150,000 and $250,000 per year, typically for drug development using animals. When humans are involved, the devices are sold outright for up to $100,000 each. These sorts of partnerships propelled the company to $9.3 million revenues last year.

In a departure from past work, Maxcyte is trying to develop and sell a drug itself rather than just enable another company’s work. The company plans to use the money raised in the offering for clinical trails for a cell therapy it calls “Carma,” which it is developing in partnership with researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The treatment, versions of which are already in seven clinical trials around the world, is meant to treat ovarian cancer through a process that modifies certain cells.

The treatment still hasn’t been tested on humans, and Maxcyte has a long and potentially expensive road ahead of it if it wants to push the treatment through the Food & Drug Administration’s approval pipeline. But Doerfler says the data he’s seen from the treatment’s initial trials in animals was enough to make an otherwise-conservative board and management team take a leap of faith.

“The preclinical data we have seen has been very promising,” Doerfler said. “We’re seeing strong hints of anti-tumor activity.”