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1Q21—thirst for preclinical biotechs unquenched

Although biotech stocks were volatile, the boom of company flotations continued. Sana Biotechnology, a gene and cell therapy aggregator and the latest in preclinical companies to go public, raised $675.6 million, besting Moderna’s 2018 all-time blockbuster initial public offering (IPO) of $604.3 million. The IPO chart was topped by cell therapy developers (Sana, Instil Bio, Vor Biopharma and Gracell Biotechnologies), the first three of which (joined with another early-stage firm, Design Therapeutics) are still only in preclinical development. Overall, $8.5 billion in IPO financing cascaded into the sector, with 196 companies raising all-time highs in the United States/Canada and Europe; private investments also ballooned to $12.8 billion, up across the globe on 1Q20. Debt and deals, though, lost ground: the former down year-on-year, though up (to $4.6 billion) from 4Q20; partnerships dropped 73% from 4Q20, indicating a potential temporary blip, tougher negotiating from biotech firms flush with cash, or a lack of face-to-face interactions finally slowing deal flow. Delivery featured prominently in licensing, including Genevant (formerly Arbutus) lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) now proven in COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Stock market performance

An up-and-down quarter, with biotech stocks tumbling back 12% from the February all-time high.

Global biotech initial public offerings

The IPO market still red hot in Europe and the Americas.

Number of IPOs

  4Q19 1Q20 2Q20 3Q20 4Q20 1Q21
Asia-Pacific 11 10 8 13 20 9
Europe 3 1 6 4 2 7
Americas 12 9 17 22 26 25
  1. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence

Global biotech financing

Partnerships dropped off as a funding source.

PIPE, private investment in public equity. Credit: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence

Global biotech venture capital investment

In the United States and Europe, risk capital still abounds.

Number of rounds

  4Q19 1Q20 2Q20 3Q20 4Q20 1Q21
Asia-Pacific 25 15 23 31 35 23
Europe 42 42 40 50 38 41
Americas 100 99 107 102 86 132
  1. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence


Company (principal underwriters) Amount raised ($ millions) Date completed Focus Change in stock price (as of 4/8/2021) Location
Sana Biotechnology (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, BofA Securities) 676 3 February Gene and cell therapy; preclinical –11% United States
Prestige Biopharma (Samsung Securities) 405 5 February Biosimilars –42% South Korea
Instil Bio (Morgan Stanley, Jefferies, Cowen, Truist Securities) 368 18 March TIL; preclinical –15% United States
Design Therapeutics (Goldman Sachs, SVB Leerink, Piper Sandler) 276 25 March Preclinical –20% United States
Immunocore (Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Jefferies 258 4 February TCR –18% United Kingdom
Cullinan Oncology (Morgan Stanley, SVB Leerink, Evercore ISI, H.C. Wainwright) 250 7 January mAbs; clinical 7% United States
Suzhou Connect Biopharma (Jefferies, SVB Leerink, Piper Sandler, China International Capital) 220 18 March mAbs; clinical –6% China
Prometheus Biosciences (SVB Leerink, Credit Suisse, Stifel, Nicolaus, Guggenheim Securities) 219 11 March Precision medicine; clinical –8% United States
Gracell Biotechnologies (Citigroup, Jefferies, Piper Sandler, Wells Fargo) 209 8 January CAR-T; clinical –44% China
Vor Biopharma (Goldman Sachs, Evercore ISI, Barclays Capital, Stifel, Nicolaus 203 5 February Cell therapy, anti-CD33 CAR-T; preclinical –10% United States
  1. TIL, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes; mAb, monoclonal antibody; TCR, T cell antigen receptor; CAR, chimeric antigen receptor. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence

Venture capital

Company (lead investors) Amount raised ($ millions) Round Date completed Location
ElevateBio (Matrix Capital Management, EDBI, Emerson Collective and others) 525 C 15 March United States
EQRx (Arch Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, GV and others) 500 B 11 January United States
Insitro (CPP Investment Board, Andreessen Horowitz, SoftBank Vision Fund and others) 400 C 15 March United States
Centessa Pharmaceuticals (General Atlantic, Vida Ventures, Janus Henderson Investors and others) 250 A 16 February United States
Clover Biopharmaceuticals (Temasek Holdings, GL Ventures and others) 230 C 22 February China
Tessera Therapeutics (Alaska Permanent Fund, Altitude Life Science Ventures, SoftBank Vision Fund and others) 230 B 12 January United States
Affinivax (Rock Springs Capital, Foresite Capital, EcoR1 Capital and others) 226 C 8 January United States
Valo Health (PSP Investments, HBM Healthcare Investments, Flagship Pioneering and others) 190 B 11 January United States
AffaMed Therapeutics (Lake Bleu Capital, Partners Investment Group, Superstring Capital and others) 170 B 9 September China
Vaccitech (M&G Investments, Monaco Constitutional Reserve Fund, Tencent Holdings and others) 168 B 17 March United Kingdom
  1. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence

Mergers and acquisitions

Target Acquirer Value ($ millions) Date announced
Kymab Sanofi 1,100 11 January
Oxford Immunotec PerkinElmer 591 7 January
Resolution Bioscience Agilent Technologies 550 2 March
GigaGen Grifols 80a 9 March
Oncoceutics Chimerix 39 8 January
  1. a56% of stake, 44% previously acquired. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence


Researcher Partner Up-front cash ($ millions) Description
BeiGene Novartis 650 BeiGene grants Novartis rights in North America, Europe and Japan to develop and commercialize tislelizumab, a humanized IgG4 anti–PD-1 monoclonal antibody (mAb) designed to minimize binding to Fcγ receptor on macrophages
Ovid Therapeutics Takeda Pharmaceutical 196 Takeda secures exclusive, worldwide rights from Ovid to develop and commercialize soticlestat, an oral cholesterol 24-hydroxylase (CH24H) inhibitor for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Lennox–Gastaut syndrome in children and adults
Genevant Sciences Gritstone Oncology 192 Genevant grants Gritstone non-exclusive rights to LNP technology to develop and commercialize self-amplifying RNA vaccines against SARS-CoV-2
Ensoma Takeda 100 Ensoma grants Takeda exclusive, worldwide rights to Engenious engineered adenoviral vectors for up to five rare-disease indications
CureVac GlaxoSmithKline 90 GSK and CureVac partner to develop next-generation mRNA COVID-19 vaccines
Genevant Sciences Sarepta Therapeutics 50 Sarepta and Genevant partner to develop LNP-based gene editing therapeutics
Merus Eli Lilly 40 Eli Lilly partners with Merus to research and develop up to three CD3-engaging T-cell-redirecting bispecific mAb therapies for the treatment of cancer
Gritstone Oncology Gilead Sciences 30 Gilead partners with Gritstone in exclusive option and license agreement to develop an HIV-specific therapeutic vaccine using Gritstone’s personalized antigen-based prime–boost vaccine platform
Turning Point Therapeutics Zai Lab 25 Turning Point grants Zai Lab exclusive rights to develop and commercialize TPX-0022, a small-molecule multi-tyrosine kinase inhibitor of colony-stimulating factor-1 receptor (CSF1R), MET and SRC in greater China
Asahi Kasei Pharma Eli Lilly 20 Asahi Kasei Pharma grants Eli Lilly exclusive rights to AK1780, an oral central nervous system–penetrating, small-molecule, purinergic type 2 X7 (P2X7) receptor selective antagonist for treating neuropathic pain
  1. Source: BCIQ BioCentury Online Intelligence

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DeFrancesco, L. 1Q21—thirst for preclinical biotechs unquenched. Nat Biotechnol 39, 538–539 (2021).

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