Moderna’s IPO today is biggest, for a pre-revenue biotech, of all time. Expanding its offering to over 26 million shares has allowed it to raise $604m and values the messenger RNA company at more than $7.5bn – not bad for a group whose projects have barely reached the clinic.
The enlarging of the deal – the group had initially stated that it would offer just under 22 million shares – indicates strong interest from investors. The 20% drop in the share price at the end of the first day of trading, however, is a reflection of the fact that Moderna has a great deal to prove.
The $23-per-share deal might yet increase further in size. Moderna has granted the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase an additional 3.9 million shares of common stock at the IPO price, less discounts and commissions.
Moderna has been talked of as a unicorn for so long it is worth remember exactly how early in their development its products are. The group has nine active clinical trials, all in viral infections or cancers, and all phase I. One of these studies was scheduled to conclude in September and another in October, but so far no data has been forthcoming.
|Moderna's active clinical trials – all phase I|
|Status||Candidate||Conditions||N||NCT ID||Primary completion date|
|Recruiting||mRNA-4157||Solid tumours||90||NCT03313778||Sep 2019|
|Recruiting||mRNA-2416||Relapsed/refractory solid tumour malignancies or lymphoma||75||NCT03323398||Jul 2019|
|Recruiting||mRNA-1647 and mRNA-1443||Cytomegalovirus||209||NCT03382405||Feb 2020|
|Recruiting||mRNA-2752||Relapsed/refractory solid tumour malignancies or lymphoma||130||NCT03739931||Aug 2020|
|Active, not recruiting||mRNA-1325||Zika virus||90||NCT03014089||Feb 2019|
|Active, not recruiting||VAL-506440||Influenza||201||NCT03076385||Oct 2018|
|Active, not recruiting||VAL-181388||Chikungunya virus||60||NCT03325075||Mar 2019|
|Active, not recruiting||VAL-339851||Influenza||156||NCT03345043||Sep 2018|
|Active, not recruiting||mRNA-1653||Human metapneumovirus and human parainfluenza||119||NCT03392389||Jul 2019|
It is true that Moderna has partnerships with Astrazeneca, Merck & Co and Vertex, so it does have some cash trickling in. But the shareholders who’ve enabled Moderna to raise this huge haul, conferring a value of $7.5bn on the Cambridge, Massachusetts company in the process, will be waiting with ill-disguised impatience for clinical data, knowing that that will be the first clue to whether their bet has been a smart one.
And they won’t be waiting alone. Investors’ interest in pre-commercial companies appears to have increased sharply this year: the top four pre-revenue biotechs to go public have done so in the last five months.
|Top five IPOs of pre-revenue biotechs… ever|
|Company||Amount raised ($m)||Offering price||Date||Stock exchange|
|Moderna||604||$23||December 7, 2018||Nasdaq|
|Innovent Biologics||422||HKD13.98||October 24, 2018||Hong Kong Stock Exchange|
|Ascletis Pharma||400||HKD14||August 1, 2018||Hong Kong Stock Exchange|
|Allogene Therapeutics||373||$18||September 11, 2018||Nasdaq|
|Axovant Sciences||362||$15||June 11, 2015||Nasdaq|
The growth in mega-sized venture capital rounds means that more highly valued private companies are nearing a point where early investors want to exit, likely prompting many to look at a public float. That, combined with fears that the IPO window may be swinging shut thanks to both macroeconomic factors and a cooldown in biotech-specific enthusiasm, is speeding these big VC-backed groups into becoming publicly traded companies.
Moreover, the sector has been enjoying the biggest bull market since 2000 and investors are open to earlier-stage, higher-risk propositions. As for Innovent and Ascletis, they seized the opportunity provided by the Hong Kong exchange changing its listing rules to allow pre-profit or pre-revenue companies to float.
The poor showing Moderna made today might lead to this atmosphere starting to dissipate.