Novimmune’s billionaire backer happy to hang fire on IPO until market improves

The long wait for Novimmune to go public is set to go on a little longer. While Novimmune’s ex-CEO Jack Barbut got the IPO chatter going himself way back in 2010, the monoclonal antibody specialist and, importantly, the billionaire banker who owns a chunk of the company are in no rush to hit go on the long-gestating plan.

Geneva, Switzerland-based Novimmune looked set to finally push ahead with the IPO plan late last year when it replaced long-standing CEO Barbut with former Roche ($RHHBY) Chief Medical Officer Ed Holdener. Novimmune specifically cited a desire to float or sell some or all of the company as the motivation for the managerial rejig. But, six months later, at least one of those options is off the table for now.

Talking to Tribune de Genève, Martin Ebner, the billionaire banker whose largesse has financed the advance of Novimmune, said the downturn in sentiment toward biotech IPOs means he is content for the company to stay private. The willingness to hang fire on the IPO is underpinned by a belief that Novimmune would struggle to achieve a value that meets the expectations of existing investors in today’s market. Ebner thinks the forecast valuation of the company has halved.

Many biotechs are in similar situations, in part because some investors believe valuations became overinflated during the boom of 2015. How long it will take valuations to return to former highs is an open question, as is the extent to which trade buyers, Novimmune’s other exit route, are willing to pay prices that match biotechs’ perceptions of their own worth. For his part, Holdener has put the near-term focus on working toward a partnership.

Ebner appears happy to support the advance of Novimmue’s pipeline while partnership preparations are put in place. Novimmune has twice turned to existing, unnamed investors for money in 2016. The two rounds have added CHF 60 million ($61 million) to the company’s bank account. Exactly how much of the cash has come from Ebner is unclear, but the TdG article puts his total contribution at upward of CHF 100 million. Novimmune has raised more than CHF 250 million in total.

- read TdG’s article (French)