Did Mod­er­na break the biotech IPO mar­ket?

2018 end­ed re­plete with a record-break­ing round of FDA ap­provals and IPO cash rich­es for the year. But that ra­pa­cious en­thu­si­asm soured as De­cem­ber rav­aged stocks across the board, in­clud­ing some ag­gres­sive­ly val­ued new­ly-pub­lic com­pa­nies that al­so end­ed up as col­lat­er­al dam­age, as the cor­rec­tion at the end of the year blurred lines in­to a bear mar­ket.

While the sell-side came out gun­ning with am­bi­tious stock price pro­jec­tions ear­ly Wednes­day, one promi­nent set of an­a­lysts sees mar­ket sen­ti­ment tip­ping to­ward an an­gry back­lash that could have a pro­found im­pact on an in­dus­try that’s en­joyed bil­lions in new pub­lic in­vest­ments.

“If there was any­thing good about De­cem­ber it was on­ly that it end­ed,” Cowen an­a­lysts wrote in a note eval­u­at­ing bio­phar­ma sen­ti­ment on Wednes­day. “Stock per­for­mance wasn’t just poor, but hor­ri­ble by his­tor­i­cal pro­por­tions. The eq­ui­ty in­dices had one of the the worst De­cem­bers of the past cen­tu­ry with both the S&P 500 and DJIA eras­ing not just 2018’s gains, but a por­tion of those from 2017. Biotech fared no bet­ter. The NBI was down 11.2% in De­cem­ber, clos­ing 2018 down 9.3%. Sim­i­lar­ly the XBI (-12.1% in De­cem­ber, -15.5% in 2018) has not just end­ed 2018 down, but has giv­en back a large pro­por­tion of the per­for­mance since the Q1:16 lows. Fol­low­ing the worst per­for­mance for stocks on a Christ­mas Eve ever, the on­ly mer­cy came via a ~5% re­bound on the day af­ter Christ­mas. Oth­er­wise the per­for­mance would have been that much worse.”

IPOs raked in record sums in 2018 helped along by uni­corn list­ings such as Mod­er­na, Al­lo­gene and Ru­bius. Per­haps the most elec­tri­fy­ing of all pub­lic list­ings last year was that of Mod­er­na $MR­NA, a uni­corn biotech that pulled off the biggest IPO in ear­ly De­cem­ber with a $604 mil­lion boun­ty that as­signed it a mar­ket cap of about $7.5 bil­lion af­ter sell­ing an up­sized 26.2 mil­lion shares at $23 each — the mid-point on its range. The stock, though, soon showed signs of a strug­gle on its first day of trad­ing, end­ing the day down 20% and evap­o­rat­ing some $1.5 bil­lion from its mar­ket val­ue. With a steep drop in Mod­er­na’s trad­ing price in its first day out, Wall Street was show­ing signs of cau­tion.

That re­luc­tance was well timed, as the end of the year proved to be a blood­bath.

“In­vestors are shell shocked by the de­pre­ci­a­tion that was so quick, so dra­mat­ic, and so close to the end of the year. A hand­ful of funds have been closed, and oth­ers have re­struc­tured, mak­ing all less se­cure in their jobs with a fair num­ber head­ing to their hol­i­day va­ca­tions con­tem­plat­ing changes in ca­reers. Sen­ti­ment is worse than we can re­mem­ber over the last five years, and in fact many in­vestors have de­vel­oped a bear mar­ket mind­set,” Cowen an­a­lysts wrote.

In the bio­phar­ma world, per­haps Mod­er­na is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The stock closed at $15.27 on Dec. 31 and a mar­ket cap of about $5 bil­lion. On Wednes­day, a slew of ini­ti­a­tions on the mR­NA com­pa­ny sur­faced from the com­pa­ny’s own un­der­writ­ers:

  • Buy at Gold­man Sachs, PT $25
  • Over­weight at JP Mor­gan, PT $22
  • Over­weight at Piper, PT $24
  • Over­weight at Mor­gan Stan­ley, PT $29
  • Out­per­form at Op­pen­heimer, PT $27
  • Buy at Need­ham, PT $28

For Cowen, a no­table ex­cep­tion from Mod­er­na’s list of un­der­writ­ers, IPO sen­ti­ment in 2019 will be un­der­scored by re­straint and vig­i­lance.

“Fol­low­ing some no­table IPOs that were per­ceived to be ag­gres­sive­ly val­ued, and that quick­ly broke the deal price, the mood to­ward IPOs has sunk be­low dis­in­ter­est to­ward anger. The win­dow may not have closed com­plete­ly, but in­vestors will be very choosy over the next sev­er­al months, se­lec­tive­ly sup­port­ing com­pa­nies with strong fun­da­men­tals, pedi­greed man­age­ment, and at­trac­tive val­u­a­tions. Nonethe­less, there re­mains no short­age of pri­vate com­pa­nies hop­ing to IPO dur­ing 2019,” not­ed the an­a­lyst team.


Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.