Biotech financing sets new record in 2015 for second straight year

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The biotechnology arena’s financing total for 2015 reached unprecedented heights for the second straight year, according to EY’s 29th annual Beyond borders report. Biotech companies raised nearly $71 billion in 2015, well ahead of the previous record of $56 billion totaled during 2014. Spurring the growth performance were record capital raises in three areas: follow-on public financing rounds, debt and venture capital. 2015 additionally represented another stellar year for initial public offerings (IPO), with more than $5.2 billion raised in IPOs, the third-highest total recorded.

Since the United States accounts for the vast majority of all biotech financing (86 percent during 2015), EY analysis says it makes sense to view it as a proxy for the overall health of the industry, and signs of a financial slowdown were readily available.

For example, in fourth-quarter 2015, activity significantly decreased in almost every fundraising category except venture capital, which remained remarkably steady throughout the year.

“Fourth-quarter IPO activity shrank appreciably: biotechs raised $1.4 billion via 11 offerings in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter, newly public biotechs raised only US$497 million across eight deals,” according to the Beyond borders report. “Most ominously, no biotechs went public, in the US or anywhere else, during December 2015 and January 2016.

“The drop in follow-on offerings was even more pronounced: in the third quarter, biotechs pulled in US$4.4 billion across 48 deals, but in the fourth quarter, that fell to US$1.2 billion across 27 deals. Debt practically vanished, too, but the third quarter’s total was unusually high as a result of US$24 billion raised by stalwarts Gilead Sciences, Biogen and Celgene. Biotech’s financing drop-off mirrored the decline of the NASDAQ Biotech Index, which fell 21% during the month of January 2016.

EY analysts say the drivers of biotech’s overall success remain intact. The drivers include a favorable regulatory environment, public policy tailwinds (including support for biopharma-friendly legislation such as the 21st Century Cures Act and development incentives like priority review vouchers), exploding scientific opportunities in key therapeutic fields such as immuno-oncology, and big pharma’s unquenchable desire to acquire innovation.

Due in part to more than $32 billion in debt financing during 2015, biotechnology commercial leaders are equipped to compete for that innovation as well, per EY analysis. In September 2015, Gilead Sciences raised $10 billion to add to an already strong balance sheet, which is expected to be put to use for M&A. Celgene raised $8 billion in August in part to finance the $7.2 billion acquisition of Receptos, which boosts Celgene’s prospects in autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis. Amgen and Biogen raised $3.5 billion and $6 billion respectively, and each companies’ capital allocation strategies certainly include a mix of shareholder incentives and business development priorities, EY analysts say.