Friday, October 05, 2012

Financings of the Fortnight, You're Now Cleared For Landing


As we write this, at least five biotechs are in registration for initial public offerings. Circling the runway, if you will. Could even be more, what with the allowances for hush-hush registration afforded by this year’s JOBS Act. One has just touched down – the first biotech issue in more than two months -- but only after making major concessions to the public markets. (See Regulus Therapeutics in our roundup below.)

There’s been buzz that 2012 could be the best year for biotech IPOs since 2007, the year before all things financial went to heck in a mortgage-backed handbasket. “Best since 2007” is a rather backhanded compliment, but we understand the feeling that there’s a little more sun shining. As our Pink Sheet brethren reported this week, for example, antibiotic developer Paratek Pharmaceuticals has picked itself off the mat to file for an IPO. In its filing the firm cites more confidence in the revamped FDA guidelines for antibiotic approvals – specifically in skin and skin-tissue infection, which Paratek’s lead candidate, once partnered with Novartis, aims to treat.

But there should be no illusion that landing an IPO will mean a short taxi to the gate and a swift, sprightly exit past the smiling cabin crew. In other words, there’s an oversized suitcase just waiting to tumble out of the overhead bin: IPOs aren’t boosting company valuations. This has been true for years, hence the motto “The IPO is just another round of financing.” But one would think that the rise in other indicators, such as slightly better post-IPO performance, less drastic “haircuts” (the difference between the proposed IPO terms and the eventual ones), and a broader pool of IPO buyers, would put some wind under the step-up wings. (OK, that metaphor is officially grounded.)

As our new colleague Stacy Lawrence reported last week, the step-ups from final venture round to IPO have remained tepid. In fact, according to research from law firm Fenwick & West, the real action recently has taken place earlier in the funding cycle: step-ups at Series B in the second quarter of 2012 averaged 63%, and at Series C, 26%. The jump in valuation at Series D was 9%, and at Series E or higher, it was -9%. Those early boosts in valuation, however, at least are helping the entire group trend in the right direction. In a four-quarter moving average, life sciences venture rounds had a 21% step-up. That’s up from 0% in the first quarter of 2010. Flatter than a flounder on a Nebraska two-lane blacktop, as Dan Rather might have said.

In other IPO news, the upcoming issue of Start-Up breaks down six years of biotech exits, both M&A and IPO, and looks at the companies with corporate venture backers. As we found more than a year ago, private biotechs with corporate VCs on board are acquired at higher returns than those without CVC backing.

Does the CVC magic rub off on IPOs, too? Tune into the new issue to find out. Also in the new Start-Up, we profile a biotech that could be first to market with a disease-modifying drug for an autism disorder; we delve into the unusual business model of a company fully owned by non-profit foundations but looking to attract venture backers; and we examine the strategies of companies working on psoriasis that patients hope will soon make the leap to orally administered treatments.

In Start-Up's annual VC survey, by the way, we asked participants if the aforementioned JOBS Act has had any of its intended effect on the IPO process:

It might be too soon to tell where the IPO market is going, but we, dear readers, are approaching our final destination. Please return your seat back to the upright position, lock your tray tables, and put your  electronic devices away -- except, of course, the one you're using to read the latest edition of....

Regulus Therapeutics: If haircuts have been less drastic this year, you wouldn’t know it from the Regulus IPO. The microRNA developer birthed by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Isis Pharmaceuticals made its public debut October 4, the first biotech IPO since July, selling 11.25 million shares at $4 a pop. It was a drastic shift from selling 4.55 million shares in the $10 to $12 range it hoped to hit. The cash raised by Regulus is roughly the same as it had first targeted, $45 million instead of $50 million, but the rest of the metrics were ugly. Seeing how the firm was owned by other drug companies, however, the immediate financial impact might not be as urgent as it would be for traditional venture backers. Before the IPO, Alnylam and Isis held 45% and 44% of Regulus, respectively, and Sanofi (9%) owned most of the rest. There were all sorts of side deals with the IPO, too. Regulus partner AstraZeneca agreed to buy $25 million in common stock at the IPO price, which gives AZ 6.25 million shares – practically an equal post-IPO share to Alnylam and Isis, according to the most recent regulatory filing. Other corporate owners are likely to buy in at the IPO, too: the filing indicates Sanofi, Isis and GlaxoSmithKline, which like AZ and Sanofi also is a development partner, have said they’re interested. Filings in coming days should reveal the extent of their purchases. Underwriters have 30 days to buy up to 1,687,500 extra shares. On its first day of trading Regulus closed at $4.20 a share, up 5%. – Alex Lash

Aragon Pharmaceuticals: When prostate cancer drug developer Aragon announced a $42 million Series C round in March, CEO Rich Heyman told "The Pink Sheet" DAILY that another private round was unlikely, but still on the table. Its new $50 million Series D round, then, represents somewhat of a course change for a company that was mulling a partnership before year’s end, and even acknowledged exploring a public offering late last year. Three days before revealing the D round, Aragon presented strong Phase II data for top candidate ARN-509. Unorthodox investor venBio led the round, and prior investors Topspin Fund, Aisling Capital, OrbiMed Advisors and The Column Group also joined. Validation for ARN-509 came with the August approval of another compound in the androgen receptor antagonist class, Medivation and Astellas’ Xtandi (enzalutamide), but that also could crowd the market as both drugs seek to compete with J&J’s Zytiga (abiraterone). Moreover, Aragon faces a breach-of-contract lawsuit from Medivation, which alleges that Aragon’s scientific co-founders, once researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, hid ARN-509’s existence when Medivation licensed a series of similar compounds, including Xtandi, from the university. Aragon has filed a counterclaim; the original suit could reach trial early next year. – Paul Bonanos

Antabio: The French antibiotic discovery startup said October 1 it completed the first-ever crowdfunding round for a biotech. It’s a difficult claim to verify, but if not exactly true, it’s certainly one of the few not just to have tapped anonymous, Internet-based donors – akin to the grassroots Internet fundraising that President Obama famously put to use in 2008 – but to have cashed them out in the black. Again, a hard claim to verify, but an Antabio spokeswoman told The In Vivo Blog in an e-mail that every one of the more than 200 crowd funders got a 2x return on investment. The total amount the company raised from them was €300,000. The crowd funders exited when a former Swiss biopharma executive, Christophe Richard, and other angels made personal investments in the company earlier this year. The firm is aiming to have its first candidate in the clinic by 2016. One area of focus is on treatments for bacteria that have developed resistance against carbapenems, the antibiotic class traditionally deployed against Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella. – A.L.

Asceneuron: The Swiss firm spun out this week from Merck KgAA’s Merck Serono unit with the group’s preclinical Alzheimer’s assets that target tau, one of the two major misfolding proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Research into drugs that attack the tau-associated pathologies of Alzheimer’s disease have had a resurgence of late, in part because longstanding approaches to attacking beta amyloid, the other misfolding protein of AD, have failed in late-stage drug trials. Merck Serono, through its venture arm, will invest 5 million in Asceneuron. Its staff will consist of eight current Merck Serono employees to move the preclinical assets into the clinic up to Phase I, at which point the firm says it will look to out-license or partner the three programs. It’s the third firm to emerge from the closure of the unit’s Geneva headquarters, announced in January, tempered by a 30 million fund to back spin-outs like Asceneuron. Merck KgAA bought the family-owned Serono for roughly $13 billion in 2006. -- A.L.

Photo courtesy of honorary FOTF co-pilot alantankenghoe via a Creative Commons license.

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