FierceBiotech's 2015 Fierce 15

Whatever lies ahead for biotech in 2016, we can now look back on a 3-year-long stretch of good times for the industry. Venture groups have used the wave of biotech IPO exits and M&A deals to go back and raise more money from institutional investors. And as billions of dollars in fresh capital has converged with brilliant new scientific thinking, the result is a whole new wave of standout innovators as represented here by the Fierce 15.

Watch for trends in the stories ahead. Savvy investors have been assembling new teams, often turning to vets from Genentech and Amgen ($AMGN) on the West Coast, while Cambridge, MA, back east continues to dazzle the world with new technologies that have lured top talent from around the world. R&D execs who once may have been grimly committed to the corporate world have been willingly leaving top posts in Big Pharma for the chance to run their own biotech.

One reason for the big brain drain from pharma to biotech is that many of these companies are orchestrating some fast marches to the clinic. And they're hustling along new drugs that can compete in hot fields like immuno-oncology and gene editing. Even neurodegeneration, the most counterintuitive investment out there these days, has seen a surge of renewed interest on the part of biotech upstarts looking to drive past the wreckage of past failures to try something new and alluring.

These good times have inspired a surge of biotech activity in places like the U.K., which is finally putting past failures in the rear-view mirror as new investors come in to back startups. And China and other countries on the Pacific Rim have started to emerge as well.

All these trends are on display in this year's Fierce 15, our 13th annual collection of biotechs that deserve to be called Fierce.

Remarkably, last year's Fierce 15 class includes 8 companies that have filed or completed an IPO. Two more have clearly completed crossover rounds that put them in striking distance of an offering of their own--provided the market cooperates. That has never happened before and may never reoccur. No one rescinded the tough odds against success in the drug development business. Eventually chillier times will slow down the parade of public moves, and catastrophic failure is simply a risk that will always lurk in the DNA of every new startup.

In the meantime, the industry needs an antidote to the toxic political discussion now revolving around drug pricing. Real innovation should be well compensated. While the Martin Shkreli mess had tongues wagging about the rapacious pharma industry, companies you'll find in the Fierce 15 are taking on the kind of big risks that justify big rewards. Separating these standouts from Turing's schemes will help clarify this discussion for everyone concerned. -- John Carroll, editor-in-chief (email | Twitter)