The biotech IPO scene turns red hot

During all of last year there were only 11 biotech IPOs. But even that weak number looked pretty good compared to the barren years leading away from the 2008 financial crisis. In the last 6 months, though, the industry has seen a tremendous rebound, with almost twice that number of IPOs in half the time. And there's no sign that the great leap into the public market is waning, with 10 more IPOs in the queue.

Add it all up, and the biotechs that went public in the first half of the year raised close to $1.4 billion--which is particularly impressive if you consider that it represents a stream of cash that had all but dried up in recent years. New money flowing into biotech means more R&D projects, more researchers and more contracting. It's even more impressive once you look at the hot stocks like bluebird bio ($BLUE), which saw its shares soar 55% by the end of the first half, or Chimerix ($CMRX), up 73%.

Up until this year, investors had been steering clear of biotech IPOs, leery of the kind of extraordinary risks associated with drug development work, where an unexpected glitch can wipe out a company's value in minutes. But a sudden influx of IPOs doesn't mean that investors have thrown caution to the wind. For every hot stock like Chimerix, there was a company like Ambit ($AMBI), which couldn't come close to its initial price range. Investors are still being choosy about what they like, and the long-term investors that helped create these companies are often seen coming in to make sure the IPO gets off on the right foot.

Nine of these newly public biotech companies--Epizyme ($EPZM), bluebird, Portola, Ambit, KaloBios, Enanta, Tetraphase, Prosensa and PTC ($PTCT)--have been highlighted as Fierce 15 winners over the years. Some of them came out of the IPO chute running strong; others were weak. But the CEO of one of the strong ones gave FierceBiotech a hat tip just before they sounded the opening bell on their first day of trading.

"The Fierce 15 has been a great inspiration for us," Hans Schikan, the CEO of Prosensa, which was one of the biotechs to see its shares swell in value on the first day of trading, told me.

There's no telling how long this particular IPO window will remain open in the U.S. Just as investors cheer on big gains and sudden wealth, a growing number of analysts have begun to wonder out loud if the sudden spike will quickly collapse, leaving another group of biotech investors scrambling for the exits and vowing never to return. But for now, a group of biotechs are making hay while the sun shines. 

Given the importance of the IPO market for raising funds and pushing new drug programs, we're going to keep the list updated. So if you're looking for a comprehensive source of information on these companies, check out our list, as well as the extensive archives we have on most of their histories. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Alcobra Pharma

Based: New York
Symbol: ADHD
Range: $10 to $12
IPO price: $8
Raised: $25 million
Close June 28: $6.85
Change: Down 14%

Scoop: The low-profile Israeli biotech hadn't made much of an impression when it set out to raise a modest $27 million or so in an IPO. The money was intended to fund late-stage work on its oral ADHD therapy. But things haven't gone well for the biotech. Forced to take a serious haircut to make the IPO leap, the company's shares have slipped even further since going public.

Ambit Biosciences

Based: San Diego
Symbol: AMBI
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $8
Raised: $65 million
Close June 28: $7.00
Change: Down 12%

Scoop: Ambit Biosciences priced its star-crossed IPO at $8 a share, forced to take a deep discount on the initial range of $13 to $15 that was trotted out to skeptical investors. The biotech--named to the Fierce 15 way back in 2006--sold a bit more than 8 million shares at the reduced price, rather than the 4.6 million shares it had intended. Just weeks after it announced the IPO, its second shot at going public, Astellas decided to dump its $390 million pact with Ambit on quizartinib and other FLT-3 inhibitors covered in their deal.

Aratana Therapeutics

Based: Kansas City, KS
Stock symbol: PETX
Range: $11 to $13
IPO price: $6.00
Raised: $34.5 million
Close June 28: $7.56
Change: Up 26%

Scoop: Aratana believes that the usual approach to developing drugs for animals--adapting therapeutics developed for humans--leaves a lot to be desired. Instead, it has dedicated programs for a non-COXIB analgesic for treating pain, an appetite-stimulating molecule for inappetence, and a recently licensed nonopioid local anesthetic for treating postoperative pain. And it has a big market in mind for dogs and cats. Aratana's shares rose after it went public but never came close to the proposed range.

Bluebird bio

Based: Cambridge, MA
Stock symbol: BLUE
Range: $14 to $16
IPO price: $17
Raised: $101 million
Close June 28: $26.40
Change: Up 55%

Scoop: Bluebird bio's IPO in mid-June was so successful, the wags immediately began to speculate that the whole biotech IPO boom may soon be over--after it had just begun. The Third Rock Ventures-backed gene therapy/rare disease outfit--CEO Nick Leschly was part of the Millennium mafia that booted up the venture group--scored proof-of-concept data for adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD. Then bluebird, a Fierce 15 company, quickly shifted gears and focused on a late-stage study. The venture group that backs bluebird also includes Arch Venture Partners, Forbion Capital Partners, RA Capital Management, TVM Capital and some undisclosed investors. Third Rock owned 28% of the company ahead of the IPO.

Cancer Genetics

Based: Rutherford, NJ
Stock symbol: CGIX
Range: $10 to $12
IPO price: $10
Raised: $7 million
Close June 28: $10.11
Change: Up 1%

Scoop: Cancer Genetics had modest plans by the time it actually triggered its IPO. It raised close to $7 million and will spend much of that on its diagnostics venture with the Mayo Clinic. But originally the company had dreamed of a $42 million windfall. The final amount leaves the company far off the mark on its initial investment plans, but after running low on funds, the added cash helps keep the doors open.

Cardio3 BioSciences

Based: Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium
Stock symbol: CARD
Range: €16.65 ($21.50) to €19
IPO Price: $21.50
Raised: $29.7 million
Close June 28: N/A
Change: N/A

Scoop: The first biotech IPO in the second half of the year belonged to a rare European offering. The company's claim to fame is C-Cure, an experimental program which takes the body's repair cells, makes them heart cells and injects them into damaged organs to do their work. And Cardio3 designed the IPO to build on the work it's been doing in Europe with a U.S. study that could help pave the way to an approval in the big North American market. To help complete the IPO, two big investors--SRIW and PMV--committed to buying a big chunk of stock.

Chimerix

Based: Durham, NC
Stock symbol: CMRX
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $14
Raised: $102 million
Close June 28: $24.24
Change: Up 73%

Scoop: Chimerix's April IPO offered some early evidence this year that biotech offerings were heating up. Demand for its shares was hot, and the price shot straight up right out of the gate. Its venture backers say the Street tuned in to the potential of the biotech's antiviral portfolio. There's a pact with Merck ($MRK) to boast of and a late-stage program in place for CMX001, designed to prevent infections from cytomegalovirus. Chimerix stock has had one of the best runs in biotech, with no sign yet of cooling off anytime soon.

Enanta Pharmaceuticals

Based: Watertown, MA
Stock symbol: ENTA
Range: $14 to $16
IPO price: $14
Raised: $56 million
Close June 28: $17.71
Change: Up 26%

Scoop: Enanta has a pipeline of products, but it's resting it's now resting its hopes on ABT-450, a crucial piece of AbbVie's ($ABBV) Phase III hep C program. In the spring of 2012 Enanta and Abbott (AbbVie was spun off later) announced that the protease inhibitor--developed by the two companies in a collaboration--in an interferon-free combo delivered a sustained viral response after 12 weeks of treatment for 91% of genotype 1 patients. And 82% of patients achieved SVR 36. The FDA subsequently named AbbVie's hep C cocktail a breakthrough therapy. And with hepatitis C in the spotlight, the biotech's stock has benefited from the market's attention. Enanta is a 2012 Fierce 15 company.

Epizyme

Based: Cambridge, MA
Stock symbol: EPZM
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $15
Raised: $89 million
Close June 28: $28.13
Change: Up 87%

Scoop: Epizyme provided proof that early-stage biotechs can win at the IPO game as well as late-stage developers. Focused on small molecules that can play on epigenetic enzymes involved in cancer, the biotech successfully sold its vision of a fast-paced development plan to investors. And its lead program--EPZ-5676--went into a Phase I trial last fall for mixed lineage leukemia. A partnership with Celgene ($CELG)--which has been wheeling and dealing around blood cancers--helped establish the biotech's potential. Epizyme was named a Fierce 15 company in 2011.

Esperion Therapeutics

Based: Plymouth, MI
Stock symbol: ESPR
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $14.00
Raised: $70 million
Close June 28: $14.10
Change: Up 1%

Scoop: Meet the new Esperion, successor to the biotech that Pfizer ($PFE) bought. The original team got back together and got the cholesterol drug ETC-1002 back from Pfizer, and their new company went on to raise $57 million to get the program through an early midstage study. And they hit the IPO market at just the right time, pricing right in the middle of their range. Their LDL-lowering pill was able to cut bad cholesterol by up to 43% in a Phase IIa study. Esperion is advancing the drug in the hopes that it can prove it works without causing some common side effects associated with statins like muscle pain and weakness--which eliminate an estimated 20% of the patient population.

Insys Therapeutics

Based: Chandler, AZ
Stock symbol: INSY
Range: $8 to $10
IPO price: $8
Raised: $32 million
Close June 28: $13.84
Change: Up 73%

Scoop: Insys has a pair of products including Subsys, a sublingual fentanyl spray for breakthrough pain in opioid-tolerant cancer patients. Its lead product candidate is Dronabinol Oral Solution, an oral formulation of dronabinol, which would be its second branded supportive care product, if approved.

KaloBios Pharmaceuticals

Based: South San Francisco
Stock symbol: KBIO
Range: $12 to $14
IPO price: $8.00
Raised: $70 million
Close June 28: $5.66
Change: Down 29%

Scoop: KaloBios is still in Phase II with its lead assets--"new and improved" antibodies for respiratory disease and cancer. KaloBios CEO David Pritchard has been evangelizing the biotech's work on antibodies for several years, boasting that its better-engineered brands that bind to targets better make a natural second-gen approach to the field. But his sales theme--antibodies overall have a strong record of success--has yet to catch on with investors. The company was picked as a Fierce 15 company back in 2009 and is partnered with Sanofi ($SNY).

Kamada

Based: Israel
Stock symbol: KMDA
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $9.25
Raised: $52 million
Close June 28: $11.16
Change: Up 20%

Scoop: Kamada hasn't had much of a profile in the U.S., which is one reason why it went public. The biotech's F-1 describes the company as an orphan-drug-focused, plasma-derived protein therapeutics company with an existing marketed product portfolio and a late-stage product pipeline. Kamada develops and produces specialty plasma-derived protein therapeutics and currently markets these products through partners in the United States and through local distributors in emerging markets. The company has a proprietary platform technology for the extraction and purification of proteins from human plasma to produce Alpha-1 Antitrypsin as well as other plasma-derived proteins.

LipoScience

Based: Raleigh, NC
Stock symbol: LPDX
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $9
Raised: $45 million
Close June 28: $6.99
Change: Down 22%

Scoop: LipoScience has already commercialized a heart-disease-related assay for the Vantera platform, shipping about 8 million units of the NMR LipoProfile test, which uses nuclear magnetic resonance detection to determine a patient's low-density lipoprotein particle number from a blood sample. With that information, physicians can better personalize how they treat patients at risk for heart disease, LipoScience says. -- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)

NanoString Technologies

Based: Seattle
Stock symbol: NSTG
Range: $13 to $15
IPO price: $10
Raised: $54 million
Close June 28: $8.00
Change: Down 20%

Scoop: NanoString is working to expand the adoption of its breast cancer diagnostic, pointing to a new study that found Prosigna to provide more information than a competitor. NanoString hopes those data will help it push Prosigna into more and more labs around the world as the company looks to grow revenue after a so-so IPO. The company plans to spend much of that haul making its case to customers, and data touting the CE marked test's prognostic abilities can't hurt, CEO Brad Gray said. -- Damian Garde (email | Twitter)

Omthera

Based: Princeton, NJ
Stock symbol: OMTH
Range: $12 to $14
IPO price: $8
Raised: $64 million
Close June 28: N/A
Change: N/A

Scoop: Omthera was just months away from filing for approval of the omega-3 cardiovascular drug Epanova when it went public in March, but investors didn't buy into the biotech's pitch. After setting a range of $12 to $14 a share for the company, the IPO went out at $8 and shares subsequently declined. Nevertheless, AstraZeneca ($AZN) saw value where the market didn't, agreeing to buy the biotech for $323 million, $12.70 a share, along with up to $120 million in contingent value rights.

Portola Pharmaceuticals

Based: South San Francisco
Stock symbol: PTLA
Range: $13 to $16
IPO price: $14.50
Raised: $122 million
Close June 28: $24.57
Change: Up 69%

Scoop: The South San Francisco-based biotech, a 2009 Fierce 15 company, boasts of a lead candidate called betrixaban in Phase III development. After former partner Merck ($MRK) handed back rights to the Factor Xa inhibitor to Portola in 2011, Portola CEO William Lis pushed his company to pursue the program alone. The late-stage development plan focuses on use of the candidate as a preventive treatment for acutely ill patients with a form of thrombosis called venous thromboembolism. -- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

Prosensa

Based: Leiden, The Netherlands
Stock symbol: RNA
Range: $11 to $13
IPO price: $13
Raised: $78 million
Close June 28: $19.25
Change: Up 48%

Scoop: Prosensa licensed out its lead drug for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, drisapersen, to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), which recently won the FDA's breakthrough drug designation after providing positive Phase II data that had been collected on 53 boys afflicted with DMD. For boys in the continuous treatment group after 24 weeks, there was a mean improvement over baseline of 31.5 meters in the 6-minute walking test, according to Glaxo's scientists. Prosensa--a 2012 Fierce 15 company--is following up with additional DMD drug programs that are being closely watched by boys suffering from this disease. GlaxoSmithKline is engaged in a development race with Sarepta ($SRPT), which has its own promising Phase II data to discuss.

PTC Therapeutics

Based: South Plainfield, NJ
Stock symbol: PTCT
Range: $13 to $16
IPO price: $15.00
Raised: $125 million
Close June 28: $15.00
Change: None

Scoop: PTC's claim to fame rests largely on the back of ataluren (PTC124), which has been tested on both DMD and cystic fibrosis caused by "nonsense mutations." As PTC--a 2007 Fierce 15 company--notes in its S-1 filing with the SEC, ataluren failed both a Phase IIb study for DMD as well as a Phase III for cystic fibrosis. It even recently warranted a rebuke from regulators in Europe. But the biotech, which is led by Stuart Peltz, believes it's learned enough along the way to snag positive results in a final round of Phase III trials for both indications.

Receptos

Based: San Diego
Stock symbol: RCPT
Range: $14 to $16
IPO price: $14
Raised: $72.8 million
Close June 28: $19.89
Change: Up 42%

Scoop: The 5-year-old company aims to compete in the blockbuster market for oral drugs against MS, an incurable disorder that causes nerve damage in the central nervous system and disability, with an S1P1R small molecule modulator called RPC1063. Next year the biotech group expects to report data from the midstage portion of a Phase II/III trial for the candidate in patients with relapsing MS. The late-stage portion of the study could take off in 2013, according to a regulatory filing. -- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

Stemline Therapeutics

Based: New York, NY
Stock symbol: STML
Range: $10-$12
IPO price: $10
Raised: $33 million
Close June 28: $23.84
Change: Up 138%

Scoop: Stemline was the first biotech to debut on Wall Street this year, and its success helped persuade others to jump in. It's engaged in midstage development work with a trail of expenses and no income. But in a strong market, that's no longer the kiss of death. In its S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Stemline boasted that its two lead programs for SL-401 and SL-701 amply demonstrate its potential in targeting cancer stem cells and tumors. Another biotech, Verastem ($VSTM), recently pieced together a successful IPO with its cancer stem cell research. Stemline is planning to put 401 into a Phase IIb study of 200 patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia, while 701 will be pushed into a pediatric study for brainstem glioma and a separate trial for adult glioblastoma, or brain cancer.

Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals

Based: Watertown, MA
Stock symbol: TTPH
Range: $10 to $12
IPO price: $7.00
Raised: $75 million
Close June 28: $7.03
Change: Up .5%

Scoop: Tetraphase--a 2010 Fierce 15 company led by Guy Macdonald--launched in 2006 with technology developed at Harvard, where Andrew Myers and his colleagues in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology had opened the door to creating new tetracyclines through synthetic chemistry. Its lead program, eravacycline (TP-434), is an IV broad-spectrum antibiotic, and there's a lot of excitement at Tetraphase about the possibility of creating unique oral antibiotics.

And Finally... here's a list of the biotechs that have filed for an IPO.

AGIO: Cambridge, MA-based Agios, a 2009 Fierce 15 company, has raised a pile of cash from venture groups and Celgene ($CELG) in recent years. And now it's headed to the public market to see if it can raise $86 million more in an IPO, pitching a drug-development platform that has yet to undergo testing in the clinic.

CNAT: Conatus is out to raise about $55 million to back its lead compound emricasan, acquired from Pfizer ($PFE) in a 2010 deal. Pfizer had picked it up in the 2005 acquisition of Idun Pharmaceuticals for $298 million, then shelved the drug a few years later after seeing evidence of inflammation in mice. Some former Idun execs run Conatus, though, and have taken the candidate through a midstage study. This week the biotech set a range of $10 to $12 per share for the offering.

EVOK: Launched by longtime biotech entrepreneur Cam Garner and run on a tight budget since its launch in 2007, Evoke Pharma is a single-product company--its therapy is dubbed EVK-001--that has run up a little more than $20 million in red ink since it first opened its doors 6 years ago. Questcor sold the rights to the drug to the low-profile biotech for $448,000 and a schedule of milestones and royalties. The biotech is looking for $23 million to continue its work.

HTBX: Hoping to capture some of the new excitement for select biotech IPOs, Heat Biologics bumped the size of the maiden offering to 2.3 million shares. At the top of its $10 to $12 range, the offering could raise more than $27 million. The Chapel Hill, NC-based cancer and infectious disease drug developer, founded 5 years ago, develops new immunotherapies. As of now, the biotech has only 5 employees but plans to hire more if its IPO is successful.

ICEL: Founded by famed stem-cell pioneer James Thomson, Cellular Dynamics markets stem-cell lines for use in drug R&D. The biotech is looking to raise about $57 million in its IPO. It has some revenue, but like a lot of biotechs it is largely awash in red ink. Its SEC filing spells out that the company earned a little more than $5 million in product sales last year, against $14 million in R&D costs and total expenses of about $29 million.

IRKO: Philadelphia, PA-based Iroko Pharmaceuticals started fishing for $145 million to back its own drug work. The biotech has high hopes for its pipeline of low-dose NSAID drugs designed to avoid the adverse events associated with the class.

OMED: OncoMed just set terms for its IPO at $14 to $16 a share, targeting up to $74 million in fresh cash. Last spring, when it first laid out its plans to go public, the biotech was talking about a $115 million deal. A couple of years ago Bayer struck a $387 million development pact with OncoMed for each new cancer stem cell and protein therapeutic program targeting the Wnt pathway. The antibody OMP-18R5 was the first of these programs to make it into the clinic. OncoMed also struck a partnership deal with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) back in 2007 on anticancer stem-cell treatments. The developer has an early-stage project in its pipeline.

ONTX: Most of Onconova's eggs are in a single basket--the ambitious program for the late-stage cancer drug rigosertib. Last summer the biotech announced that it had rounded up a $50 million commitment from its venture backers. And just weeks later Baxter ($BAX) stepped up with a $50 million upfront payment to snag the European rights to the drug, a multikinase inhibitor targeting mitotic and PI-3 kinase pathways. 

RGDO: Late last year Regado Biosciences came up with a big $51 million round that served as a kind of down payment on a planned $120 million study of its lead therapy--an anticoagulant that adds a promising "real-time" therapeutic tool to dial the effect up and down in order to control bleeding risks. Not willing to take any offers on the table, though, Regado still had to come up with the rest of the money. And now it's sprung a $75 million IPO designed to take it all the way through Phase III development.

XON: Randal "RJ" Kirk has already made two fortunes in his biotech career, one for Clinical Data ($CLDA) and the other for New River. Selling those companies left Kirk with a fortune Forbes estimated at $2 billion. And he's been sinking a big chunk of that into his synthetic biology company Intrexon, which he took over back in 2005. Kirk's S-1 outlines plans to raise $125 million for a company with a wide range of development pacts. Intrexon was named a Fierce 15 company.

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