Circassia's record-busting $332M IPO inspires hopes of U.K. renaissance

In the first major U.K. biotech IPO in years, Circassia has managed to raise a whopping $332 million from its debut on the London Stock Exchange, raising the prospect of more such offerings in a sector that has been long beaten down by a series of industry setbacks.

Circassia went public with a considerable flourish, pricing its shares at 310 pence, the top end of the range. The last big biotech IPO in London raised 50 million pounds sterling for the antiscarring company Renovo, which subsequently went belly up. Ark Therapeutics, now a penny stock company, raised $91 million in 2004 and went on to become another cautionary tale in a country that has more than its share of biotech horror stories.

Bloomberg has put this Circassia deal down as the biggest British IPO in a generation.

Circassia has a big market in mind. The biotech has a Phase III allergy product in development that promises to adapt the human immune system for people with cat allergies. The big idea is that its synthetic peptides can not only work, but promise to take effect in short order. And there's a mid-stage pipeline with new vaccines for dust mites, grass and ragweed as well.

Imperial Innovations is Circassia's biggest investor, helping raise a total of $171 million in venture funding.

"Circassia's IPO was a key test for the UK market and the fact that it got away successfully shows increased receptivity for the life sciences sector," says Edison's Lala Gregorek, in an email to FierceBiotech. "Circassia is a great example of science developed in the UK and the considerable investor interest in it is encouraging."

The U.K. biotech industry has been waiting with bated breath for this IPO, hopeful that a success story with investors could inspire a wave of public debuts. Few enough European biotechs have gone public in the last year. The industry had to watch on the sidelines as the U.S. biotech industry saw dozens of companies raise about $3.5 billion from IPOs last year in the biggest boom since the dot-com glory days. Oxford Immunotec ($OXFD) went public last year, but chose to do it on Nasdaq.

A few years ago a group of notable biotechs, including Renovo and Antisoma, went belly up, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of investors that has hobbled the prospects of a new generation of startups. Those memories, though, may be fading.

EP Vantage put together a list of the biggest listings in London since 1995, which you can see here.

- here's the Reuters story