IPO boom: 8 biotechs bag half a billion in a banner week

North Carolina's Argos Therapeutics ($ARGS) raked in $45 million in a below-its-range Wall Street debut, sticking a so-so endcap on an otherwise colossal week for biotech IPOs in which drug developers banked more than $500 million.

Argos flipped about 5.6 million shares at $8 apiece, well below the company's planned $13 to $15 range and totaling less than the $60 million it once sought. But despite the downsize, Argos' cash infusion will help it get lead candidate AGS-003 through a Phase III trial in patients with renal cell carcinoma. The drug uses a patient's own dendritic cells to fight cancer growth, harvesting white blood cells to craft a personalized immunotherapy and then reinjecting it. In a Phase II study pairing AGS-003 with Pfizer's ($PFE) sunitinib, the combo clocked a median overall survival of 30.2 months, compared to 14.7 months for sunitinib alone, and Argos is looking to duplicate those results in its late-stage program.

And thus concludes the biggest week of the now-yearlong biotech IPO boom, as Argos' pricing makes for 8 successful debuts adding up to $502 million in new funds. (Kidney drug developer NephroGenex was expected to make a $40 million debut on Friday, but the offering never materialized.) Eleven Biotherapeutics ($EBIO), Revance Therapeutics ($RVNC) and Egalet ($EGLT) hit the market on Thursday for a net $196 million, and uniQure ($QURE), Auspex Pharmaceuticals ($ASPX), Genocea Biosciences ($GNCA) and Biocept ($BIOC) went public Wednesday for a total of $261 million.

Next week looks nearly as busy, too, with Flexion Therapeutics, Amedica, Eagle Pharmaceuticals and Semler Scientific all expected to pull off IPOs by Valentine's Day. If each goes according to plan, the group would haul in $168 million and bring the industry's fortnight-long sum to $670 million.

But despite all the glittering optimism going in, the luster on 2014's biotech IPO class is seeming to wear off on investors. As IPO research outfit Renaissance Capital points out, quite a few of those companies have seen their share values drop since hitting Wall Street, and many had to slash prices and beef up offerings just to get there. Even early-year all-stars Dicerna Pharmaceuticals ($DRNA) and Ultragenyx ($RARE) have seen their shares fall sharply since respectively tripling and doubling on day one, according to Renaissance.

And the field is only going to get more crowded: The buzz at last month's J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference was that at least 25 biotechs were making the roadshow rounds with hopes of a first-quarter IPO.

- here's Argos' statement
- check out Renaissance's analysis

Read more on