Is the market for biotech start-ups coming back to life?

It's spring, and there's renewed hope in the deal-making community that for a select few venture-backed companies IPOs and buyouts are coming back into fashion. VentureSource tracked 15 VC-funded companies that changed hands last week, leading the Wall Street Journal to conclude that some big companies are getting back in the M&A game while the IPO market is showing distinct signs of life.

Could this be some sort of sign that the old go-go market is back?

No, says Venrock's Bryan Roberts, whose fund has been involved in three biotech IPOs this year (Aveo, Alimera and Ironwood). "There are some good deals that are coming about but that's unlikely to move the needle," Roberts tells the WSJ. "This doesn't presage a large bubble of [deals]."

Still, 14 VC-backed companies have gone public this year, notes the Journal, which singles out Tengion. There were only eight such IPOs in 2009 and a meager seven in 2008. To make the cut, biotechs either need to have a product on the market or at least reasonably close to an approval.

"This kind of activity we haven't seen in years, not since the 1999 and 2000 time frame," said Promod Haque, a venture capitalist at Norwest Venture Partners, about the market in general. That's encouraging, but don't order the champagne yet.

- here's the analysis from the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)

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