Biotech stocks fail to lift on so-so J.P. Morgan conference's first day

Last year, things were pretty quiet out of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference: few deals, few major updates. That seemed to set the tone for much of the year, at least on the M&A front.

This year, day one offered a glut of news, kicking off with a deal worth $7 billion and from big biotech Celgene, no less—although much of this was back-loaded, with just over a billion dollars upfront, and all for a tiny series A startup with a Sanofi castoff in an area that is already catered for.

We also know that Novo Nordisk is on the hunt for Ablynx with a multibillion-dollar offer, but the Belgium cancer and respiratory biotech is holding out.

RELATED: J.P. Morgan kicks off with a deal as Celgene pays $1.1B for Impact Biomedicines

There was perhaps a tell yesterday that not all were unanimous in a defense against Novo’s current approach when Dr. Peter Fellner, who has served as chairman of Ablynx since 2013, abruptly stepped down from the company.

Throughout the day, some data were released, from the likes of Axovant, Acorda and Revance, though these were all either fails or glimmers of effect. And during the sessions, much chatter was about tax reform. The biopharma view is that it’s great. Whether this will cause more deals and M&A in 2018, or just share buybacks, remains to be seen.

Investors and observers always want more from this conference, but Bio Twitter was not abuzz with energy over #JPMHC18, and this also showed up in stocks: The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index was down 1.3% Monday, while S&P Biotech was off nearly 2%.

Celgene, meanwhile, was down 0.77% in normal hours trading, and up marginally by 0.3% afterhours; analysts still want more from the big biotech, outside of price rises for older medicines and relatively modest deals—with its weight in biotech stocks, this also didn’t bode well yesterday.

And nor did it with Shire, which said it wants to split its neuro and rare disease businesses, with a potential to list them independently, being off nearly 5%, and Biogen slipping down 3.75% after the news of Axovant’s Alzheimer’s flop, with some perhaps seeing a read-through to its experimental Alzheimer’s therapy.

There was before JPM-related announcements of a whole load of VC investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars into biotechs, with Takeda making two of the larger investments (though it has form over the past 18 months for this).

Today is another day—let’s see what it brings.