VC funding follows tepid pace in Q3 as first-time biotech rounds shrivel

Biotech companies in the U.S. drew a weak $852 million in venture support over the past quarter, a distinct downturn over a burst of new financing rounds in the second quarter. That dollar figure represented a 39% plunge from the second quarter, though the smaller bankroll was divided among 123 deals, with a 10% jump in the number of companies involved.

Quarterly swings aside, the year-to-date figure still falls in line with most years since 2008.

Analysts for the MoneyTree Report, a closely-followed gauge of investment activity set up by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, have also been tracking a sickly rate of first-time financings for biotechs. While the number of first-time financings in the quarter jumped by about a third in life sciences, to 47, the dollar total of $150 million slid 56%. And in the first 9 months of the year only 104 first-time financings were recorded in the life sciences industry, the lowest rate they've seen in 17 years.

It's not unusual to see big swings in the rate of venture investing when you look at the field on a quarter-by-quarter basis. The MoneyTree Report tracked a $1.3 billion boom in venture rounds in the second quarter of the year, which followed a lackluster $875 million in financings in the first quarter--with what was then the lowest quarterly rate of first-time financings since 1996.

For the year so far venture funding has hit $3.15 billion. While the NVCA tends to take a glass-half-empty view of the numbers, that's still ahead of where the industry was at this point last year, when $2.86 billion had been raised. A strong fourth quarter in 2012 helped push the total for the year to $4.16 billion, a number which is still easily within reach this year. Most years the average financing levels for biotech have hit around the $4 billion mark, though 2011 topped out at a strong $4.8 billion.

Since the 2008 financial crisis analysts have been tracking the venture cash flow closely, assigning it a heightened importance for a money-eating venture like drug R&D. This year, though, IPOs have made a big comeback, pumping more than $3 billion into 39 companies, with 15 more in the IPO queue.

The latest venture numbers tend to reflect a disconnect with what's been happening in the public markets as the IPO boom has swept through the industry this year, says Carl Goldfischer, the managing director at Bay City Capital. The investors he talks to have been encouraged by that kind of an upturn, he adds, but it takes time for that sense of optimism to translate into more venture investing.

"You might see an upturn," Goldfischer tells FierceBiotech. "It's more complicated because the number of venture firms has dropped, but you are seeing it."

In addition, he adds, there are more creative financing deals being done with the bigger biotech and pharma companies. Bay City recently stepped in with a $10 million investment for the startup PharmAkea Therapeutics while Celgene ($CELG) added a $35 million collaboration pact tied to an exclusive option to buy the company if their work on cancer and fibrosis works out. You'll see more of these kinds of innovative investment deals, he adds, where companies look for innovative products and are more comfortable with being in a position of simply bowing out if the work doesn't pan out. 

Some regions did better than others in the last few months. The Boston Globe points out that the trendy biotech scene attracted $266 million in the third quarter, marking the growing success of the Cambridge/Boston biotech hub.

"Right now, biotech is booming," Atlas Venture partner Jeff Fagnan tells the Globe. Local IPOs are sizzling as well, making this a big year for the booming sector. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Here are the top 10 venture rounds of the quarter for biotech:

The biotech: Dicerna Pharmaceuticals
Venture cash: $60 million
Based: Watertown
Investors: Abingworth Management Ltd, Brookside International, Domain Associates, Oxford Bioscience Partners, RA Capital Management, SR One Ltd, Skyline Ventures, Undisclosed Investor, Omega Fund Management

The scoop: This third investment in Dicerna's gene-silencing technology brings its total raised to a whopping $110 million. And CEO Doug Fambrough says the substantial fundraising offers some solid proof that after running from hot to cold, RNAi is now gaining renewed interest from some deep-pocketed investors as programs make the leap into the clinic.

The biotech: Otonomy
Venture cash: $45.9 million
Based: San Diego
Investors: Aperture Venture Partners, Avalon Ventures, Domain Associates, Novo A/S, OrbiMed Advisors, Osage Partners, RiverVest Venture Partners, TPG Growth

The scoop: This new money extended Otonomy's runway by about 15 months, said CFO Paul Cayer. And by the end of that time Otonomy will complete the first of two planned pivotal studies for one of its lead ear disease drugs as well as a late-stage program for another drug that should leave the company ready to file an NDA. It will also fund the initial clinical work on a third drug for tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear that afflicts a large population.

The biotech: Intra-Cellular Therapies
Venture cash: $43 million
Based: New York
Investors: Partnership Fund for New York City, Undisclosed

The scoop: Its lead drug candidate, ITI-007, which is being studied in a Phase II clinical trial for the treatment of schizophrenia. "To date, ITI-007 has demonstrated clinical signs consistent with antipsychotic activity in patients with schizophrenia and its unique pharmacology may expand its therapeutic use beyond the treatment of acutely exacerbated schizophrenia to also include chronic residual schizophrenia by improving negative symptoms, mood, sleep and cognition," noted CEO Sharon Mates at the time the fundraising was announced. "We expect the proceeds from the financing will allow us to move forward with the clinical development of ITI-007 as a treatment for schizophrenia as well as other psychiatric and behavioral disorders."

The biotech: Ophthotech
Venture cash: $33.3 million
Based: New York
Investors: Clarus Ventures, HBM Healthcare Investments AG, Novo A/S, SV Life Sciences Advisers, Undisclosed Investor, Undisclosed Investor

The scoop: Just before Ophthotech floated a very popular IPO, its venture backers agreed to sink in a sizeable amount of cash as Novo stepped up with a $125 million royalty deal for the developer's Phase III-ready drug Fovista, which is designed to treat wet, age-related macular degeneration. The company is run by an experienced team of execs from Eyetech, which was acquired by OSI in 2005.

The biotech: iPierian
Venture cash: $30 million
Based: South San Francisco
Investors: ATEL Ventures, Hellman & Friedman, Highland Capital Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mitsubishi UFJ Capital Co Ltd, MPM Capital, SR One, Undisclosed Investor.

The scoop: Initially, iPierian had assembled a stellar group of stem cell experts to help guide the company into one of the hottest R&D fields at the time: stem cells. But despite all the talent, iPierian never achieved liftoff, eventually seeing a series of CEOs come and go through. After Nancy Stagliano came in two years ago, iPierian was restructured and she quickly set her sights on an antibody that targeted the tau protein and another antibody that zeroed in on the complement pathway, with potential in orphan diseases.

The biotech: Audentes Therapeutics
Venture cash: $30 million
Based: San Francisco
Investors: 5AM Venture Management, OrbiMed Advisors, Versant Ventures

The scoop: The money is earmarked for the development of AT001 for X-linked myotubular myopathy and AT002 for Pompe disease. Both AT001 and AT002 are based on adeno-associated virus gene therapy technology. 

The biotech: Gliknik
Venture cash: $27.64 million
Based: Baltimore
Investors: Undisclosed investors

The scoop: Gliknik's big idea is that its recombinant Fc fusion protein can be used in much smaller quantities to provide the same or better therapeutic effect than IVIG has. CEO David Block tells FierceBiotech that transfusions now can take two days. This new program could potentially offer a major improvement in the lives of patients with autoimmune diseases. Pfizer ($PFE) stepped in a few weeks ago with an upfront check for $25 million to license in rights to an experimental, preclinical program aimed at replacing pooled IVIG therapy for autoimmune diseases.

The biotech: MicuRx Pharmaceuticals
The venture cash: $25 million
Based: Hayward, CA
Investors: Bioveda China Fund, Devon Park Bioventures, Morningside Technologies

The scoop: The investors are backing the parallel development of MRX-I, an oral oxazolidinone antibiotic targeting infections triggered by multidrug resistant Gram-positive bacteria, in the U.S. and China. MicuRx has facilities in Hayward, CA, and Shanghai. And the CEO boasts that the global strategy is lean and mean.

The biotech: Argos Therapeutics
The venture cash: $20.4 million
Based: Durham, NC
Investors: The Aurora Funds, Capital Communications, Forbion Capital Partners, Intersouth Partners, Lumira Capital Corp, Morningside Technologies, TVM Capital GmbH, Undisclosed Investors

The scoop: Russia's Pharmstandard International led the round, making its first investment in a U.S. biotech company. Pharmstandard agreed to sink $30 million into the company and took Russian commercialization rights for AGS-003, an immunotherapy being tested in a Phase III study for metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

The biotech: Vaxart
Venture cash: $20 million
Based: San Francisco
Investor: Care Capital

The scoop: The 9-year-old biotech revealed the raise in a Form D filed with the SEC. Just a few weeks before, Vaxart reported positive data from a Phase I study of its H1N1 flu vaccine in tablet form. A $12.5 million Series B financing led by Care Capital was closed back in 2010.