Un­fazed by Brex­it blues, UK biotech trade group cel­e­brates bois­ter­ous year of ven­ture dol­lars with record £1.1B to­tal

A record year of ven­ture in­vest­ing has float­ed UK’s biotech boat, with the mon­ey flow in 2018 gush­ing over the £1 bil­lion mark for the first time.

A to­tal of £1.1 bil­lion was raised thanks to a boom in late-stage fi­nanc­ings, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port from the UK BioIn­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion and Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence. While seed fund­ing stayed flat at £27 mil­lion and A rounds nabbed a col­lec­tive £213 mil­lion, it was Se­ries B and post-B fi­nanc­ings that de­liv­ered the most im­pres­sive num­bers at £393 mil­lion and £480 mil­lion, re­spec­tive­ly.

To put this in­to per­spec­tive, the BIA es­ti­mates that biotechs around the world raised a to­tal of £16.5 bil­lion from pri­vate and ven­ture sources. The US ab­sorbed the li­on’s share at £11.1 bil­lion, main­ly due to out­sized roles played by three biotech hubs, while Eu­rope pock­et­ed £2.6 bil­lion. The in­flux of cash in­to the UK means it’s now the fifth most at­trac­tive re­gion for biotech in­vest­ment, wrote Mike Ward of Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence, fol­low­ing San Fran­cis­co (£3.6 bil­lion), Mass­a­chu­setts (£3.4 bil­lion), Chi­na (£2.0 bil­lion) and San Diego (£1.6 bil­lion).

Julie Sim­monds

“The sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in mid and late-stage fi­nanc­ings shows a con­tin­ued ma­tur­ing of the sec­tor and strong in­ter­est from in­vestors in UK sci­ence,” Julie Sim­monds, an eq­ui­ty re­search an­a­lyst with Pan­mure Gor­don, wrote in the re­port. “It al­so re­flects the fact that UK com­pa­nies are choos­ing to re­main pri­vate for longer.”

What’s lur­ing in­vestors to a coun­try that, while es­tab­lished in sci­ence with pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies in the Gold­en Tri­an­gle, is caught up in a chaot­ic (and ac­cord­ing to End­points News’ read­ers, harm­ful) de­par­ture from the Eu­ro­pean Union?

Steve Bates

It has to do with the UK’s “ex­per­tise in ge­nomics, cell and gene ther­a­pies, an­timi­cro­bial re­search and en­gi­neer­ing bi­ol­o­gy,” ac­cord­ing to BIA CEO Steve Bates. A pair of gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies — Or­chard Ther­a­peu­tics and Free­line Ther­a­peu­tics — claimed three of the top five ven­ture deals high­light­ed in the re­port, with the rest go­ing to Benev­o­len­tAI and genome se­quenc­ing com­pa­ny Ox­ford Nanopore.

Or­chard is al­so the poster child for pub­lic fi­nanc­ing here, hav­ing fol­lowed up its two pri­vate rounds with a quick £177.75 mil­lion IPO. Its suc­cess on the Nas­daq along­side Au­to­lus sug­gests “greater in­vestor ap­petite” in the US com­pared to Eu­rope, so­lid­i­fy­ing Nas­daq’s sta­tus as the ex­change of choice for UK biotechs to go pub­lic or raise fol­low-on fi­nanc­ing.

All told, £658 mil­lion was raised in fol­low-on fi­nanc­ing, with £381 mil­lion com­ing from the Nas­daq — more than AIM and LSE com­bined.

Mean­while M&A was rel­a­tive­ly mut­ed con­sid­er­ing that the cheap British pound low­ered the val­ue of UK as­sets. BIA count­ed 15 deals, in­clud­ing med­ical de­vice and vet­eri­nary med­i­cine com­pa­nies.

As the EMA moves out of its long­time Lon­don abode and the British drug reg­u­la­tor rush­es to put its own re­view sys­tem in place, the re­port spells an op­ti­mistic fu­ture for UK biotech.

“The cap­i­tal will be there,” com­ment­ed Tim Hames, di­rec­tor gen­er­al of the British Pri­vate Eq­ui­ty & Ven­ture Cap­i­tal As­so­ci­a­tion. “Do we have the pa­tience is the key ques­tion.”

Graph­ics: “Con­fi­dent cap­i­tal: back­ing UK biotech,” Jan­u­ary 2019 re­port. BIA, In­for­ma Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. The idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.

Arde­lyx bags its first FDA OK for IBS, set­ting up a show­down with Al­ler­gan, Iron­wood

In the first of what it hopes will be a couple of major regulatory milestones for its new drug, Ardelyx has bagged an FDA approval to market Ibsrela (tenapanor) for irritable bowel syndrome.

The drug’s first application will be for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), inhibiting sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE3 in the GI tract in such a way as to increase bowel movements and decrease abdominal pain. This comes on the heels of two successful Phase III trials.

Ver­tex deal for Scot­land — no deal for Eng­land

Cystic fibrosis (CF) drug maker Vertex Pharmaceuticals — which is still locked in negotiation with NHS England to endorse the use of its medicines — has successfully negotiated a deal with Scottish authorities.

A month ago, the Scottish Medicines Consortium spurned two of the company’s medicines — Orkambi and Symkevi — citing uncertainty over their long-term efficacy in relation to their cost.

Tony Kulesa, Brian Baynes. Petri

Star founders, in­ves­ti­ga­tors hud­dle around new Boston ac­cel­er­a­tor spot­light­ing young en­tre­pre­neurs

As a widely recognized biotech hub, Boston is undoubtedly one of the best places to start a new company at the frontier of biology and engineering. With a dense network of incubators, venture capitalists and talent, seasoned company founders can have their pick of partners and models launching their latest startups.

But for young, aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s a very different scene.

Big VC firms might hire you to work on their ideas instead of yours, and accelerators may not offer the kind of deep technical expertise and guidance needed to make it in the field.

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From part­ner to knight in shin­ing ar­mor: Cas­tle Creek to buy Fi­bro­cell

In April, Castle Creek swooped in to partner with the embattled gene and cell therapy Fibrocell to shepherd its lead gene therapy for a type of “butterfly” disease into late-stage development. Now, the New Jersey-based dermatology company is acquiring its partner in a deal worth $63.3 million.

Pennsylvania-based Fibrocell last year initiated a review of strategic alternatives, including a sale.