Biotech floats come back with a vengeance

The biotech IPO market records its first billion dollar quarter in two years as demand for new issues recovers.

If as recently as three months ago biotech flotations looked like an area in terminal decline, the second quarter witnessed a remarkable turnaround, with the total raised in new issues exceeding $1bn and amounting to the strongest IPO quarter since nearly two years ago.

The resurgence has been driven by the US, which in Biohaven’s $168m float saw the biggest IPO of 2017 so far. It will not go unnoticed that the third quarter of 2015, the last time the $1bn mark was breached, came just after the peak of biotech’s bull run, and that the Nasdaq biotech index last month hit its highest point since the end of 2015 (see data below).

The second-quarter numbers provide a neat contrast with the climate for acquisitions, which the latest data suggest appears to have stalled (Second-quarter deals show a sector set on pause, July 3, 2017).

The valuation question

Since big pharma is not thought to have stopped looking for takeover targets, this trend suggests a divergence of opinions about biotech valuations.

As long as big pharma is sceptical of the surging market caps of potential targets M&A deal-making will remain subdued. For biotech this is not a problem – as long as small companies can, as the IPO numbers suggest, attract significant cash from public and VC investors their argument for holding out against what they perceive to be undervalued bids will remain strong.

Biohaven is a case in point: the group, focused on the trendy area of genetic diseases, had raised over $100m since inception four years ago, and capped that with a premium-priced $168m float, which amounted to $194m gross if the overallotment option is included. Not only that, but since floating its stock has put on 47%.

Q2 biotech IPOs on Western exchanges (Nasdaq unless stated)
Company Date Amount raised ($m) Offering price ($) Premium/(discount) First-day close ($) Q2 chg since float
Biohaven Pharmaceutical (NYSE) 04 May 168 17.00 13% 17.50 47%
G1 Therapeutics 17 May 105 15.00 (6%) 15.00 16%
Tocagen 13 Apr 85 10.00 (9%) 12.45 20%
Athenex 14 Jun 76 11.00 (8%) 12.56 45%
Dova Pharmaceuticals 29 Jun 75 17.00 6% 19.81 31%
Ovid Therapeutics 05 May 75 15.00 (6%) 12.25 (30%)
Mersana Therapeutics 28 Jun 75 15.00 0% 14.00 (7%)
Zymeworks (NYSE) 28 Apr 64 13.00 (10%) 13.00 (36%)
Urogen Pharma 04 May 58 13.00 8% 13.98 39%
Aileron Therapetuics 29 Jun 56 15.00 (6%) 10.80 (26%)
Bergenbio (OSE) 07 Apr 51 2.90 25.00 (13%)
Isofol Medical (Nasdaq First North) 04 Apr 48 3.22 27.00 (20%)
Valbiotis (Euronext) 07 Jun 40 11.80 0% 10.00 (4%)
Avenue Therapeutics 27 Jun 38 6.00 0% 8.25 33%
Skinbiotherapeutics (LSE) 05 Apr 6 11.23 15.00 23%
Annexin Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq First North) 19 Apr 6 17.67 8.40 (50%)

The company was one of 16 biotechs that floated in the second quarter, only five of which did not involve US exchanges. In the previous three months Nasdaq was looking like a very unfriendly place, with half the first-quarter IPOs being done on European exchanges.

Arguably, two of the second-quarter entrants were not fully fledged IPOs; Skinbiotherapeutics and Avenue Therapeutics are both spin-outs of bigger biotechs, Optibiotix Health and Fortress Bio respectively. Optibiotix retains a 42% Skinbiotherapeutics stake, while Fortress has majority control of Avenue by virtue of class A preferred stock.

It will come as no surprise that non-US floats ended up at the bottom of the second-quarter table in terms of IPO size. Perhaps more worryingly, it was also non-US biotechs that accounted for the lion’s share of post-float share price declines – four of seven – and collectively this cohort is off 13%.

Though pre-IPO price haircuts are still commonplace, the fact that the second quarter suggested a relative equilibration of entrants might please biotechs in the flotation queue: two raised over $100m (the oncology player G1 Therapeutics in addition to Biohaven), yet the average amount raised, at $63m, outstripped the $51m average of 2016.

Renaissance Capital, a provider of IPO and pre-IPO analysis, last week found that across all sectors the second quarter of 2017 provided the most active US IPO market for two years. And it was tech and healthcare that drove this mini bull market, at the expense of natural resources companies.

Those hoping for continued resilience from biotech as the markets enter the summer lull will hope that this is just the beginning.

To contact the writers of this story email Jacob Plieth or Edwin Elmhirst in London at or follow @JacobPlieth or @EdwinElmhirst on Twitter

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