Friday, May 03, 2013
Biotech workers of the world unite, you have nothing to exercise but your stock options. At least a few more do these days. We’re far from the cries of “Mayday!” that echoed from the bottom of the financial canyon four years ago, and as we write this, the sector is abuzz with IPO pipeline activity.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a British purveyor of pain-relieving cannabinoid drugs already listed on the AIM, just raised $31 million and made its Nasdaq debut; and Insys Therapeutics, also in the prescription pain-relief business, raised $32 million in its IPO.
Both were modest, as are most dollars raised in biotech IPOs. But they’re the eighth and ninth of the year already. To relieve investors with grumpy LPs and give workers hope that stock options will one day put a little extra scratch in their pockets, it’s volume that’s needed. More liquidity across the board, please.
It seems the waters are about to flow. Ambit Biosciences, Regado Biosciences, Receptos, Epizyme, Portola Pharmaceuticals, and others are now in the queue, along with the mega-CRO Quintiles Transnational Holdings (with private equity, not venture capital, backers). We won’t make individual assessments of the worthiness of each company at this point, but on the whole it’s a well represented group.
Those are just the ones in the public eye. There could be plenty a few steps behind, thanks to the US JOBS Act of 2012. It made IPO registration easier and stealthier at first, giving companies the chance to lay the groundwork of a possible debut without having to open up to public scrutiny. Not so fun for journalists, of course, but it gives executives and their advisors more data to consider and more time to schmooze public investors before declaring themselves in pursuit of the brass ring. And that breathing room, people say, is helping. “The ability to make initial registration statement filings confidential, plus the ‘testing the waters’ rules have made a meaningful difference in helping companies pursue an IPO,” says Fenwick & West partner Matt Rossiter, whose clients include life science companies and venture investors.
Kleanthis Xanthopoulos took his microRNA company Regulus Therapeutics public last year and is a big believer in a long, slow IPO process. “The roadshow should be where people make their minds up, finally, rather than where they learn about you,” he said during a discussion about the IPO landscape at the recent Allicense conference in San Francisco.
The biotech analysts at Cowen & Co. agree that the JOBS Act, by allowing more investor exposure to pre-IPO companies, has increased investor comfort. Other factors besides the new rules are helping, too. Since 2004 there have been 332 biopharma acquisitions and 119 IPOs, they say, which leaves public investors hungry for new investments and new ideas. And the past couple years, IPO investments have on average outperformed the S&P 500. (A couple months ago, our friends at “The Pink Sheet” took a detailed look at the strong Class of 2012 here.)
“It seems quite reasonable that these factors have come together to produce a market more receptive to IPOs than at any point in the previous 5 to 10 years," write the Cowen team in a recent sector report.
Yes, but… (You knew that was coming.) If public investors are showing more interest, why is insider participation in IPOs so high? It’s a phenomenon we’ve tracked for a while now. A year ago it was startling. At his Allicense talk, Xanthopoulos cited data from Lazard Equity Capital Markets and FactSet that show why: For this current IPO window that began in late 2009, 71% of offerings have included insiders, and the median amount of proceeds they’ve bought at IPO is 43%. In the previous window, from 2003-2007, insiders participated in 29% of offerings and snapped up 20% of the proceeds.
Quite a bump. What gives? A small part of the bloated totals could be due to the crossover phenomenon, with hedge funds and other public buyers getting in before the IPO and bolstering their positions at the debut. And on any particular deal you might find an insider or two who are simply thrilled with the company, hungry for more, and in no rush to exit. But with so many firms out fundraising, or winding down operations, most of those insiders are wading in deeper simply to get deals done.
So keep an eye on those insider numbers. If IPO volume continues apace, and the insiders start to do what they really want to do -- own less stock, not more, after their companies go public -- we'll know the window is wide open.
In fact, May is the perfect time to throw windows open, let in the breeze, and do some housecleaning. We'll start right now by polishing up the latest edition of...
Symphogen: The privately held Danish antibody company said May 3 it has reeled in another €41 million ($53.9 million) to push forward its antibody mixture pipeline. The firm is developing products that contain more than one full-length monoclonal antibody, an approach that few companies have tried. As described in a START-UP feature earlier this year, Symphogen has pioneered the way for antibody mixtures (or combinations, or cocktails, as some might call them) into the clinic, and in 2012, it outlicensed its lead oncology program, a two-antibody mixture to treat head and neck and colon cancers, to Merck Serono following Phase II trials. The cash from that deal, plus its massive €100 million financing round announced in 2011, and the new funds, an extension of that round, has given the firm a long runway to develop its preclinical pipeline. Its lead program is now Sym013, a six-antibody mixture designed to inhibit HER1 (aka EGFR), HER2 and HER3 to prevent tumors from switching signaling pathways and building drug resistance. Ultimately the company wants to design combinations of antibodies that hit targets not just on the tumor cell surface but in the surrounding microenvironment. The extension was led by existing investors Novo A/S and PKA, a Danish pension fund administrator, and included Danica Pension, making its first active investment in Symphogen. Symphogen has now raised €249 million in private capital. -- Alex Lash
ScioDerm: Dermatology start-up ScioDerm has raised the first $9 million of a planned $16 million Series A round, intended primarily to support clinical trials on lead program SD-101. The Raleigh, N.C., start-up’s backers were Morgenthaler Ventures and Technology Partners, which made us do a slight double take. Turns out Morgenthaler’s life sciences team is still investing the firm’s 2008-vintage ninth fund, even though the group has already joined forces with Advanced Technology Ventures’ biotech team to create a new firm, Lightstone Ventures. Morgenthaler is not expected to make new life sciences investments from future funds. In February, ScioDerm filed an IND to study SD-101 in epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic disorder that results in sensitive and fragile skin, disfigurement due to wounds from blistering and tearing, and early death. It had previously conducted a Phase II study of SD-101 in some subtypes, including the simplex, recessive dystrophic, and junctional forms of the disease. Also this fortnight, ScioDerm received Breakthrough Therapy designation from FDA, potentially speeding the drug’s clinical development. A Phase I study is expected soon, with a Phase IIb/III study expected as soon as late 2013. – Paul Bonanos
Esperion Therapeutics: Longitude Capital joined a roster of investors in cholesterol-fighting drug developer Esperion, leading a $33 million Series A extension that builds on $22.75 million the company raised in 2008. Returning backers included Aisling Capital, Alta Partners, Domain Associates, Arboretum Ventures and Asset Management. Esperion is attempting to grab a piece of the market for cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs that appeal to patients who cannot or prefer not to take statins such as former Pfizer blockbuster Lipitor (atorvastatin), generic since November 2011. The company recently presented encouraging data suggesting that Phase II candidate ESP-1002 reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by more than 40% in type 2 diabetes patients; it’s studying the drug in additional patient populations as well. By some estimates, a fifth of high-cholesterol patients are statin-intolerant, suffering pain or muscle weakness. Other novel drug classes, such as PCSK9 inhibitors, are being studied for statin-intolerant patients, but Esperion co-founder Roger Newton – a co-discoverer of Lipitor – said ESP-1002’s oral availability and once-daily dosage may give it an advantage over injectable alternatives. Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Esperion expects to partner the drug “in a couple of years,” according to CEO Tim Mayleben. Pfizer acquired the original Esperion for $1.3 billion in 2004 and retained several key assets, even though it shifted many to the back-burner. A management team including Newton, an original Esperion founder, engineered a 2008 spinout, establishing the new company with an external investment. – P.B.
Intrexon: The synthetic biology company said May 1 it has reeled in a $150 million Series F round of funding to continue building operations in its four areas, health care, food, energy, and environment. Health care is where Intrexon CEO and chairman Randal Kirk amassed the fortune that he’s been plowing into Intrexon since his first investment eight years ago. Kirk was majority owner of New River Pharmaceuticals, which he sold to Shire in 2007, and Clinical Data, bought by Forest Laboratories in 2011. He became CEO of Intrexon in 2009 and much of the $509 million the firm has raised has come from him or his affiliated venture funds. A majority of the Series F round came from undisclosed new investors, according to the company. The news of the financing came on the heels of the firm’s latest biopharmaceutical deal, an agreement with Soligenix to co-produce monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of melioidosis, an infection caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei endemic to Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. Other recent health care deals include an agreement with AmpliPhi BioSciences to develop a range of anti-infectives and a license of its technology to Fibrocell Science for use in development of fibroblasts and dermal cells for aesthetic and therapeutic applications. Oragenics, Adeona Pharmaceuticals and Halozyme Therapeutics have also partnered with Intrexon. – A.L.
All The Rest: New investor Oracle joined in for a second closing of Proteus Digital Health's Series F round, now totalling $62.5M… Celator closed a $39.3M financing to fund a Phase III study of CPX351 in acute myeloid leukemia… HPV vaccine developer Genticel raised €18.2M in Series C funds… Synthetic biology company Gen9 received a $21M investment from Agilent… Acumen Pharma, developing the ACU193 antibody for Alzheimer’s, completed the first close in a $20M Series A… Becker Ventures led a $15M round for AltheRx, developer of overactive bladder candidate solabegron... To support technology to distill real-time patient insights from social media, Treato raised $14.5M… ActoBiotics developer ActoGeniX completed a €10.7M Series B… Anterios collected $8.5M in venture funding for its aesthetic and dermatological drug candidates… viDA Therapeutics’ $3.6M seed round will fund a granzyme B inhibitor for fibrotic, autoimmune, degenerative, and age-related chronic inflammatory diseases… US and European institutional investors put €54M into Belgian biotech Galapagos… Radius Health, which is working on the transdermal and IV candidate BA058 for osteoporosis, raised $43M… Arrowhead Research completed a $36M private offering of common and Series B convertible preferred shares…concurrent with closing its reverse merger with publicly traded Tranzyme, Ocera plans to raise $20M… Health care-dedicated institutional buyers invested $10M in Northwest Biotherapeutics… Lincoln Park Capital Fund provided Elite Pharma with $10M… As it prepares to launch its radiopharmaceutical agent Lymphoseek, Navidea privately raised $5.1M… To pay for the NDA for male hypogonadism treatment CompleoTRT, Trimel publicly sold $Cdn40M in stock… Boron chemistry platform company Anacor completed a $20M FOPO… Cell therapeutics developer NeoStem raised $10M through a public stock sale... Immunomodulating company Idera raised $8.75M in a secondary offering... Less than a year after closing a $51M Series E round, cardiovascular firm Regado Biosciences filed for its IPO… Receptos, Quintiles, and Ambit all set terms for their IPOs… Theravance is spinning off into two independent publicly traded companies, one focused on the Breo deal with GSK, and the other on small-molecule R&D… Supernus netted $72M in a convertible senior secured notes offering… Immunotherapy-focused TNI Biotech filed a Form 10 to become public reporting entity… GSK and Avalon are partnering to start up multiple drug discovery companies over the next three years with a total of $495M in potential funding… Harvard University received a $50M donation to support translational research… Atlas Venture closed its $265M ninth fund... Capital Royalty announced an $805M fund for nondilutive financing. -- Amanda Micklus
Thanks to Paul Bonanos for help with this fortnight's column.
Photo of ILGWU members in a 1937 May Day parade courtesy of the Kheel Center, Cornell University.