The biotech IPOs keep com­ing at chart-top­ping lev­els — with no slow­down in sight

An­oth­er week, an­oth­er string of new biotech IPOs — and biotech IPOs pric­ing at record lev­els.

In the US, two more ear­ly-stage com­pa­nies broke through the $200 mil­lion mark. The syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty-fo­cused Re­pare Ther­a­peu­tics up­sized its IPO once from $16 to $18, to $18 to $20, and then priced at the high end to fetch $220 mil­lion. For­ma Ther­a­peu­tics, part­nered with Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and fo­cused on sick­le cell dis­ease, al­so set at $16 to $18, sold at $20 and ul­ti­mate­ly fetched $278 mil­lion.

Mean­while, in South Ko­rea, SK Bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, a sub­sidiary of the SK hold­ings con­glom­er­ate and mak­er of the epilep­sy drug Xcor­pi, priced at the top of its range to col­lect $794 mil­lion. It was the largest pub­lic of­fer­ing in the coun­try since Cell­tri­on Health earned $900 mil­lion in the sum­mer of 2017, per Reuters, al­though it fell a few dol­lars short of what ear­li­er re­ports had pre­dict­ed.

The lat­est pair of rais­es on the US ex­change add to last week’s gold­mine, when Avid­i­ty, Vax­cyte, and Gen­er­a­tion Bio each cleared $230 mil­lion de­spite not one of them hav­ing put a drug in­to hu­man test­ing. The boom ap­pears to be at least in part a prod­uct of the pan­dem­ic, as in­vestors weary of the oth­er cor­ners of a stunt­ed econ­o­my have poured mon­ey in­to com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing Covid-19 drugs and al­lowed pri­vate biotechs to go pub­lic at soar­ing rates.

The last two weeks alone have seen more large rais­es for pre­clin­i­cal biotechs than the last three years com­bined. Over that time, on­ly two com­pa­nies raised over $150 mil­lion that ear­ly in their de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal.

The trend to­ward larg­er rounds for the ear­ly stage com­pa­nies, though, pre­dates the pan­dem­ic, as pub­lic in­vestors join ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists in their in­creased will­ing­ness to make large bets on promis­ing, al­beit pro­tean, sci­ence. Beam Ther­a­peu­tics, Black Di­a­mond Ther­a­peu­tics, Rev­o­lu­tion Med­i­cines, and Pas­sage Bio all raised over $180 mil­lion in Jan­u­ary and ear­ly Feb­ru­ary.

In­vestors al­so sig­naled their be­lief in bio­phar­ma by back­ing Roy­al­ty Phar­ma’s record $2.2 bil­lion IPO. Roy­al­ty Phar­ma doesn’t make drugs. In­stead, it buys up long term roy­al­ties for in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al and ap­proved ther­a­pies, mean­ing for in­vestors it acts as some­thing akin to an in­dex or port­fo­lio. It’s been a lu­cra­tive busi­ness so far, and in back­ing it, in­vestors es­sen­tial­ly made a bet that mak­ing new drugs in gen­er­al would con­tin­ue be­ing a lu­cra­tive busi­ness.

Ex­clud­ing Roy­al­ty Phar­ma, there’s now been at least 8 $200 mil­lion biotech IPOs in the first half of 2020. That com­pares to 5 through all of 2019, ac­cord­ing to da­ta com­piled by Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cuts risk of Covid-19 by up to 80% among the most vul­ner­a­ble — but will it have a place next to vac­cines?

Eli Lilly says bamlanivimab lowered the risk of contracting symptomatic Covid-19 in a first-of-its-kind trial involving nursing home residents and staff, paving the way for a new option to protect against the virus.

But how big of an impact it might have, and what role it will play, at a time vaccines are being rolled out to the exact population it is targeting still remains unclear.

Among 965 participants in the study — all of whom tested negative for the coronavirus at baseline — the number of symptomatic cases reported in the bamlanivimab arm was 57% lower than that in the placebo arm (odds ratio 0.43, p=0.00021). In addition to that primary endpoint, all secondary endpoints reached statistical significance.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.