Nasdaq Exec ‘Even More Bullish’ On Biotech IPOs As New Entries Soar
A half-dozen biotech companies have staged initial public offerings on Nasdaq since the start of the year—five in the last week alone. Expect more to come, predicts Jordan Saxe, senior managing director and head of healthcare capital markets at Nasdaq, who notes that there are 14 additional biotech companies that have filed for IPOs.
Saxe predicted back in November that the conditions would be ripe for biotech IPOs in 2018, but now he says he’s “even more bullish.” Why? The business-friendly tax package is making it feasible for biopharma companies to repatriate cash held overseas, which should, in turn, drive more mergers and acquisitions, Saxe predicted in an email.
That thesis, he says, has already been validated with the announcements of several deals. Witness Celgene’s $9 billion buyout of cancer CAR-T developer Juno and Sanofi’s purchases of two companies working on drugs for blood disorders: Ablynx for $4.8 billion and Bioverativ for $11.6 billion.
The prospects for rich exits is likely driving much of the investor enthusiasm for the biotech companies that have made their debuts on Wall Street so far this year. Armo Biosciences priced its shares at $17 on Friday, raising $128 million, and saw its stock soar to $30.90 by mid-day Monday. Armo is working on drugs that stimulate the immune systems of cancer patients. Menlo Therapeutics, which is developing dermatologic drugs, also went public at $17 last week, raising $119 million. Its shares hit $34.20 on Monday.
Even some of the smaller biotech offerings have been well received. Cue Biopharma ventured out on January 2, raising $66.2 million. Cue, which is also working on immunotherapy treatments for cancer, has seen its shares jump from their offering price of $7.50 to $15.55. ResTORbio priced its shares at $15 this past Friday, raising $85 million. It traded as high as $20.50 before falling back to $16.17 on Monday. ResTORbio is working on immunotherapy treatments for diseases of aging, with its lead pipeline candidate aimed at respiratory tract infections.
One prevailing theme that stands out among these biotech newcomers is enthusiasm for immuno-oncology, and that’s no surprise. There have been many successes over the last five years in that field, including top-selling drugs like Merck’s Keytruda, which blocks the immune “checkpoint” PD-1, freeing up the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. And last year, the FDA approved two CAR-T treatments, Novartis’s Kymriah and Kite/Gilead’s Yescarta. The sky-high response rates to these new therapies—which involve removing immune cells from patients and engineering them to recognize and attack their cancers—helped drive Gilead’s $11.9 billion purchase of Kite last year and the recently announced Celgene/Juno marriage.
“Kite Pharma really reinvigorated the investor appetite in biotech, because it shows that we’re seeing great exits,” Saxe said back in November. “All of these biotechs want to have a great outcome and really cure disease, but they’re also looking for strategic financing. So the hope is to go public, and then once their clinical data is proven, they can get acquired.”
The road to Wall Street hasn’t been easy for all of the biotech companies that are planning IPOs. Entera Bio, an Israeli company focused on turning injectable drugs into more convenient oral treatments, has made three attempts to go public since 2014 and was trying again—revealing earlier this month a plan to raise $55 million in an IPO. But it postponed the offering on Monday, according to Renaissance Capital. Biofrontera of Germany set terms for a $29 million IPO on Friday, hoping to advance its pipeline of dermatologic treatments, but it has yet to complete the offering.
The potential for any of these companies to become M&A targets will continue to factor into investors’ choices about where to place their bets. The M&A market is likely to remain strong, Saxe predicts—and not just because of the eased-up tax restrictions on cash repatriated from overseas. Big Pharma companies are hungry for growth opportunities, he says, and many will be looking to augment their internal drug pipelines with assets they find outside their own doors.
Not every IPO candidate is a guaranteed M&A target, of course, and that means investors will be vulnerable to the inevitable disappointments that characterize biotech—the failed clinical trials, the rival drugs that pull ahead, and so forth. But 2017’s biotech IPO tally outpaced that of the prior year, and 2018 is shaping up to be another banner year.