Europe’s Brightest Stars: The 9 Best Biotech Companies of 2017

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Tis the season for Glühwein, Tannenbäume, and lights in Berlin, and Labiotech is celebrating with its year-end lists of the top things that happened this year. First up, the best biotech companies of 2017!

After the doozy of 2016 for biotech and pharma, things could only get better this year — and the European industry didn’t disappoint! The first CAR-T therapy, developed by Novartis, was approved by the FDA; Actelion was acquired by J&J for a whopping €30B; and amazing results from Sanofi and Alnylam mean that the first RNA therapy could be on the market as soon as next year.

Who are the best biotech companies of 2017? We selected the nine shiniest European stars based on financial events as reflections of scientific success. Read on to find out who shone extra brightly this year!

As usual, this list is in no particular order. Thank you to our advisors for their input!

Ablynx IPOed on Nasdaq this year in what became the largest of the year for a European biotech: the Belgian biotech took home $175M (€148M). While the company doesn’t yet have a product on the market, its platform of nanobodies has yielded a robust pipeline. Most recently, Ablynx scored a Phase III win for its treatment of a rare blood disorder, caplacizumab, shortly before it filed for an IPO; this nanobody has also received Fast Track Designation. As CEO Edwin Moses explained to us in an interview due to be published next week, Ablynx expects to have its first product on the market next year.

Actelion will go down as one of the best European biotechs in history for its massive $30B (€28B) acquisition by Johnson & Johnson this year. It was a lengthy negotiation process since suitors began to line up in 2011. Since then, Actelion warded off advances from Shire and Sanofi before signing on to a deal with J&J on the condition that its R&D efforts be spun out into a separate company, Idorsia, which is one of our top companies to watch next year (stay tuned for the full list, due out in January).

Genmab, Europe’s biggest biotech following the acquisition of Actelion, now has a blockbuster feather in its cap: its multiple myeloma antibody, Darzalex, reached over $1B (€850M) in sales in November. (Janssen has exclusive rights to it, so Genmab received a payment of $50M (€42M) as a milestone.) Since its foundation in 1999, the Copenhagen-based company has been developing antibody-based therapies to treat cancer. Now, it is Europe’s perhaps most fiercely independent biotech, as CEO Jan van de Winkel told me, though word on the street is that J&J is considering a buyout after the success of Darzalex…


Avantium, a spin-off from Shell, raked in a massive €103M in an oversubscribed IPO on Euronext this spring. It counts with the support of big partners like Coca-Cola and Danone in its mission to make renewable bioplastics from plant-based materials. With the cash injection, Avantium plans to build the first commercial-scale plant for renewable furandicarboxylic acid in partnership with BASF. In the words of Managing Partner Denis Lucquin of Sofinnova, Avantium’s main shareholder, the company is a “good candidate to become a European leader in this emerging industry.”

ADC Therapeutics, based in Switzerland, took home what may well be the largest fundraising in Europe of the year — a whole $200M (€170) in an oversubscribed private round to propel its eight candidates through the clinic. The antibody-drug conjugates combine monoclonal antibodies with the company’s specialized pyrrolobenzodiazepine (PBD) dimers as toxins. These molecules cross-link between DNA strands to block cell division and kill a cancer cell; notably, PBDs escape DNA repair mechanisms. Two of these conjugates are set to enter Phase II next year in trials against lymphoma and leukemia, and one of them, ADCT-301, has already shown impressive though early preliminary Phase I results.

Bicycle Therapeutics is one of my favorite companies, as it develops the likely successors of ADCs — bicycle-drug conjugates, based on peptides that mimic antibodies. Following its €1B deal with AstraZeneca last year, the company this year closed a €344M partnership with Bioverativ to develop a new class of drugs against rare blood disorders like hemophilia. While ADCs are typically applied to cancer, the bicycles are useful to a range of indications beyond that. This deal followed June’s news that Bicycle had raised £40M (€46M) in a Series B round to propel its lead candidate, BT1718, into the clinic by the end of this year.

This year was not a big one for acquisitions save for Actelion and a little Bavarian biotech, Rigontec. In September, it was bought out by MSD for €464M, having barely made it as far as Phase I since its foundation in 2014. This is a large sum for such a young company but perhaps not a surprise after Rigontec managed to raise €30M in a Series A last year. The acquisition comes right as RNA therapies are taking off — the first drug could be on the market as soon as next year following amazing Phase III results from Sanofi and Alnylam.

Everyone in biotech seems to want a piece of Exscientia‘s artificial intelligence (AI). This year, Evotec, GSK, and Sanofi all signed deals with the startup, based in Dundee, Scotland, to apply its algorithms to their drug discovery efforts. Evotec was the first to acquire a piece of the company itself by investing €15M to accelerate its growth, while the deals with Sanofi and GSK could mean close to €300M in milestones for Exscientia. AI and machine learning (ML) are becoming a force to be reckoned with in biotech, particularly in Alzheimer’s research and drug discovery, and Exscientia may be well positioned to lead the charge in Europe.

Erytech, one of our top biotechs in Lyon, France, went public in America in one of the largest IPOs by a European biotech of the year, raising a whopping $144M (€122M) on Nasdaq. The company’s platform, ERYCAPS, uses red blood cells to deliver drugs with potential applications to tumor starvation, enzyme replacement, and immunotherapy. Its eryaspase technology, GRASPA, wowed the industry in September with Phase IIb results demonstrating its ability to improve overall and progression-free survival in pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest of its kind.

Update 12/12/2017: Erytech suffered a setback in its acute myeloid leukemia trial just a few days after this article’s publication, which made its stock slump by 25%. We hope the company has some other tricks up its sleeve to set it on the path to recovery!

Images via LucasHeplerPhotography, CHEN MIN CHUN, Soleil Nordic, Tatiana Shepeleva, Tiwawat, r.kathesi, SunnyToys, Lucas Liquin, Titima Ongkatong /


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