DNA manufacturing was a hot topic in biotech investments in October, with immuno-oncology and insect protein also drawing big investor excitement.
After the huge biotech investment rounds that took place in September, October was a quieter month for private European and Israeli life sciences firms. Collectively, they raised €555.6M in 37 deals. This was less than half of the €1.5B proceeds raised in September.
The bulk of the cash went to companies developing cancer treatments as well as technology enhancing drug discovery and DNA manufacturing. In the industrial biotech sector, investments focused on companies developing sustainable methods of food production such as cultured meat, agriculture, and farming insects.
In contrast to the meteoric IPOs from Excientia and Oxford Nanopore Technologies in September, there was only one modest IPO in October. The French firm Acticor Biotech raised €15.5M when listing on Euronext Growth Paris to fund the development of its antibody drug for stroke.
DNA Script took the crown for the biggest private biotech investment round in October with a €142M Series C round. The firm is expanding its commercial muscle to market a benchtop DNA printer, which could allow labs to manufacture their own DNA instead of relying on external suppliers.
In second place came a €65M Series B round by the German firm iOmx Therapeutics. The company is developing small molecule and antibody treatments that could prevent tumors from escaping the immune system.
Agronutris made a splash in the French industrial biotech arena as it raised €50M in equity investment and another €50M in debt financing. The company was the first to gain EU approval for the marketing of insect protein for human consumption earlier this year. Agronutris plans to capitalize on this achievement by building an industrial-scale manufacturing plant by the end of 2022.
Leading the seed rounds, the Israeli-US firm Quris AI bagged €7.8M to fund the development of a so-called ‘patient-on-a-chip’: a microchip that can test the toxicity of a drug on human stem cells. The technology is designed to speed up drug safety screens and reduce our reliance on animals as drug testing models.
In second place, Alveron Pharma in the Netherlands raised €3.9M to fund the advancement of a sugar molecule drug that can reduce bleeding in surgery, injury, and the blood-clotting disorder hemophilia. Meanwhile, the UK runner up Baccuico changed its name to Bactobio and received €3.3M to bankroll research into agricultural soil additives based on the soil microbiome.
There was a bumper crop of four seed rounds focused on disease testing technology in October, including for Novai, BforCure, Testmate Health, and Sequential Skin. The biggest of these biotech investment rounds, worth €2.4M, went to Novai in the UK. The firm uses a protein dye and artificial intelligence-guided imaging to detect signs of disease in the eye.
Another startup making an impact in October was the UK firm Imophoron, which raised €4.7M in a private round to push ahead the preclinical development of vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus, chikungunya, and Covid-19.
The standout Series A round of October came from the French immunotherapy startup Egle Therapeutics, which netted €40M. The company is developing cell therapies based on T regulatory cells, which suppress and tune the immune system. Egle aims to take the cell therapies into clinical trials for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases.
The German firm Abalos Therapeutics came second with a €32.5M Series A round, and is developing its own flavor of cancer immunotherapy based on oncolytic viruses. The company uses a modified virus to infect cancer cells and make them more vulnerable to attack from the immune system.
One unusual deal in October was a huge grant worth €43.7M for the German biotech InflaRx. The cash, which came from the German government, is designed to fund the development of an antibody drug to treat severe Covid-19.
Over the last few months, public stock markets have been volatile for biotech companies in the US and Europe. This problem, partially due to the threats of tighter drug pricing controls in the US, has also impacted the ability of venture capitalists to exit on their biotech investments. However, the US government recently abandoned a big effort to control drug prices, and investors seem to be gradually recovering their confidence in biotech stocks.
While October saw a scarcity of IPO closings from European biotech companies, we’re likely to see a larger number in the coming weeks. Some candidates include TC Biopharm on the Nasdaq, MaaT Pharma on Euronext, and the heavyweight Evotec, which aims to raise around €500M on the Nasdaq.
Additionally, October saw major acquisition deals. For example, the Belgian firm Agomab took over Origo Biopharma in Spain to boost its treatments for fibrosis. And Takeda bought out its collaboration partner, the UK cell therapy developer GammaDelta Therapeutics, for an undisclosed amount.
With US drug pricing concerns soothed, high-profile IPOs on standby, and acquisition deals in the bag, European biotech investments could see an increase in confidence and yield in the coming weeks and months.
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Cover image via Elena Resko. IPO tips from Bertrand Delsuc, founder of the business intelligence firm Biotech Radar.