While oncology and psychedelics dominated European biotech’s biggest funding rounds last month, startup seed financing focused more on gene therapy and drug discovery.
Last month saw some momentous events for Europe’s biotech heavyweights. GSK paid an impressive €524M ($625M) upfront to co-develop an immuno-oncology candidate with iTeos Therapeutics in Belgium. Meanwhile, the German antibody drug giant MorphoSys took over Constellation Pharmaceuticals in the US for €1.4B ($1.7B) to get hold of experimental epigenetic drugs for cancer.
On the flip side, we saw the termination of a €1.3B ($1.6B) licensing agreement between Johnson & Johnson and the Dutch biotech argenx that aimed to co-develop a treatment for a form of blood cancer. The big pharma said its decision to pull the plug was based on the drug’s data and on the changing standard of care in blood cancer.
In terms of financing last month, European biotech companies raised over €1.2B in 45 rounds, which include private rounds and initial public offerings (IPOs). As might be expected, the lion’s share of the funding went to companies specializing in healthcare and drug development, especially in oncology and neurology.
Biotech companies working in industrial sectors such as food and agriculture saw only small rounds this month; their share had been much stronger in May. The same applies to those developing ‘enabling’ technologies including biomanufacturing and lab tools such as in silico drug testing.
Around €462M of the total sum came from four IPOs. The two biggest IPOs were closed on the Nasdaq by the psychedelic drug developers atai Life Sciences in Germany and GH Research in Ireland. The other two IPOs included a listing on the London-based AIM by the UK pharmaceutical reformulation specialist Arecor and a Nasdaq debut by Molecular Partners, a Swiss biotech aiming to develop a treatment for Covid-19.
The US-UK company Apollo Therapeutics led June’s private biotech funding rounds. The firm had been quiet for the last few years then made a big splash with a €117M ($145M) investment announced in June. According to the company, the proceeds will fund a range of programs in the fields of oncology, inflammatory disorders, and rare diseases, though further details of the programs haven’t been revealed so far.
Oncology companies dominated the rest of the leaderboard for European biotech private rounds last month. One example was a €90M ($107M) Series B from Swiss firm Bright Peak Therapeutics, which aims to fight cancer and autoimmune diseases by controlling the immune system with synthetic versions of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. Another large round — a €75M Series A raised by Mnemo Therapeutics in France — will fund the development of cell therapies against cancer that seek epigenetic targets.
Neurology followed oncology as the second-most popular therapeutic area in European private biotech funding. This trend was driven largely by two leaders: the Berlin-based Sanity Group, which aims to blend cannabinoid medications with digital health technology, and the gene therapy firm VectorY Therapeutics, which raised an oversized seed round in the Netherlands. VectorY aims to treat muscular and neurodegenerative conditions by delivering to the patient’s cells genetic instructions for making therapeutic antibodies.
In the top European seed rounds, oncology dominated less than it did in the biggest rounds overall. Transine Therapeutics and Ochre Bio, both based in the UK, develop treatments based on RNA molecules with their crosshairs on conditions affecting the central nervous system and the liver respectively. Meanwhile, rounds by Brinter in Finland and Computational Life in Italy shone the spotlight on technology that can speed up drug development such as bioprinting and in silico drug testing.
Going further into 2021, biotech funding is expected to continue rising steadily, especially as we see biotech investors ramping up their own fundraising efforts. Just in the last few weeks, the Belgian firm Novalis Biotech closed its second round at €25M to bankroll enabling technologies such as genomics and diagnostics.
Meanwhile, Sofinnova Partners recently revealed a continued interest in tapping the Italian gene therapy space. The firm pumped a total of €6M of seed financing into the startups AAVantgarde Bio, Alia Therapeutics, and Borea Therapeutics.
In the field of neurology, we could also see a surge in investor demand caused by the FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm last month. While there has been a major backlash over the decision’s justification, many biotech companies in the same field such as BioArctic and AlzeCure have seen investors flock to their stocks.
Outside of healthcare, industrial biotech companies continue making strides. The organic pesticide developer Biotalys jumped onto Euronext this month with an IPO worth up to €54.6M, albeit pricing far below its maximum target of €71.2M. Recent seed rounds by the UK sweeteners producer Magellan Life Sciences and the Swedish algae-based fermentation specialist Volta Greentech indicate high investor interest in making food production more sustainable using biotech.
Recent financing going to PL Bioscience, FabricNano, and Vectron Biosolutions also showcase the level of innovation taking place to make biomanufacturing cheaper and more efficient. This manufacturing push — partly thanks to high demand from ongoing Covid-19 vaccine development efforts — could have a long-lasting impact on many healthcare and industrial sectors in biotech.
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Cover image via Elena Resko.