FierceBiotech's 2009 Fierce 15

FierceBiotech Fierce 15 Winners

  • Achaogen
  • Agios Pharmaceuticals
  • Aileron
  • BioVex
  • Calistoga Pharmaceuticals
  • Clovis Oncology
  • Heptares Therapeutics
  • Ironwood
  • iZumi Bio
  • KaloBios

  • Pacific Biosciences
  • Portola Pharmaceuticals
  • Proteon Therapeutics
  • VaxInnate
  • Zafgen

At the beginning of this year, I was just a little nervous about how the Fierce 15 would come together for 2009. The biotech industry was headed into the Valley of Death, after all, not a pleasant-sounding place to go looking for up-and-coming companies boldly pursuing their destinies.

In truth, this year turned out to be remarkably easy to find star players. The weak developers are in survival mode, unable to attract new money and playing for time. With venture backers more selective, the cream was more readily visible at the top. And this year's Fierce 15 help prove that if you have vision, good science and solid management, the money is still there to execute growth strategies. 

This is our seventh annual Fierce 15 and the format is much the same as in previous years. I have added one new feature: A list of venture companies backing these emerging drug developers. VC money continues to be the primary source of sustenance for new ideas in biotechnology and I wanted to make sure that their role was better recognized.

Most of these companies are following a familiar path. Often starting with a university lab project, many are out to prove that they can fight disease with a new product that works a lot better than what patients have to rely on today. But there are some exceptions as well, pursuing some groundbreaking technologies. Either way, they typically face years of tests and trials, a complex and expensive regulatory review process and an incredibly risky business model. But of course a big appetite for risk helps to qualify for the Fierce 15.

All of these companies are still private. In previous years I always had to fret if one of my favorites for the Fierce 15 would go public before I could complete the project. But there was no chance of that this year. With the economy going through a topsy-turvy phase, the IPO window has been nailed shut--for now. Most of the CEOs on this year's list are already looking past the market turmoil to a period when IPOs resurface as a plausible exit strategy for venture groups. In the meantime, deal-making and M&A have heated up, offering other ways to gain a payback.

I would like to thank the readers of FierceBiotech who suggested nominees for this year's list. This year more than any other you offered up a slate of candidates for the Fierce 15 that included some real winners. And keep the e-mails coming. Once one year's list is finished, I start compiling a list of possibilities for the coming review. On to 2010! - John Carroll