Global private companies have started out the year in record fashion, attracting more than $4.4 billion in the first quarter, 10 percent more than the $4 billion generated in the first quarter last year. In fact, it is also the highest amount raised in this period in the past decade. (See First quarter private financings 2010-2019, right.)

The total raised by those companies could signal that the sector is well on its way to surpass the record $17 billion private financings hauled in during 2018.

Significant transactions

The deal volume of 97 transactions in Q1 2019 was slightly higher than the 91 that were recorded in Q1 2018. There were 12 companies in the quarter that received an investment of more than $100 million. Nine of them are U.S.-based, including Bridgebio Pharma LLC, whose business model is to create new ventures that include subsidiaries focused on dermatology, oncology, cardiology, neurology, endocrinology, renal disease and ophthalmology. In January, the company closed a $299.2 million financing round to support its efforts to target genetic disease through its existing R&D programs. (See BioWorld, Jan. 24, 2019.)

Cambridge, Mass.-based startup Anthos Therapeutics Inc. was launched by Blackstone Life Sciences, which provided a $250 million investment, and Novartis AG, which has licensed to the company MAA-868, an antibody directed at factor XI and XIa, key components of the intrinsic coagulation pathway. The compound has the potential to prevent a variety of cardiovascular disorders with minimal or no bleeding risk within a new long-acting treatment paradigm. (See BioWorld, Jan. 24, 2019.)

After raising $270 million in October 2017, rare disease drug developer Harmony Biosciences LLC entered a $200 million debt facility with CR Group LP, a health care-focused investment firm, which, the company said, will provide additional working capital to fuel its continued growth.

In February, the Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based company said the FDA had accepted for filing an NDA for its investigational product, pitolisant, and has granted priority review for the application. Pitolisant is a selective histamine 3 receptor antagonist/inverse agonist for the potential treatment of excessive daytime sleepiness and/or cataplexy in adult patients with narcolepsy.

Another deal of note in the period involved Maze Therapeutics Inc., which secured $191 million in initial startup funding to work on genetic modifiers and their role in the severity of diseases. According to the company, genes situated elsewhere in a patient's DNA and not in proximity to a mutant disease-causing gene can impact the severity of disease and often provide a natural form of protection. By conducting large-scale genetic screens studying natural human genetic variation, the company hopes to uncover the genes that provide protection from disease and determine their mode of action and then translate that knowledge into new therapies. (See BioWorld, March 12, 2019.)

Cash flows overseas

It wasn't just U.S. companies that were attracting capital, with 40 percent of the deals completed by private companies based in Europe and Asia. (See Deal volumes by region in 1Q 2019, right.)

Top financing in Asia in the quarter involved Chinese clinical-stage biotech Antengene Corp., which raised $120 million from a series B financing to advance its lead programs, ATG-008 and ATG-010 (selinexor), for treating blood cancer and liver cancer, respectively.

In Europe, Biontech AG topped the financing deals with Sanofi SA making an equity investment of €80 million (US$90.8 million) as part of an extension of an existing alliance to develop synthetic mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies.

The company was active in the first quarter, bolstering its antibody discovery capabilities by acquiring the antibody generation unit of its partner, Mab Discovery GmbH, for an undisclosed sum. Mainz, Germany-based Biontech gains an 18-person unit, based in Munich, as well as the assets and know-how required to generate antibodies from Mab Discovery's rabbit-based antibody discovery platform. (See BioWorld, Jan. 27, 2019.)

Public offerings

Boosting the total amount of financing from all sources in the first quarter was public offerings, including follow-ons and IPOs, with almost $7 billion raised. However, that amount was less than half of the record $15.4 billion that was generated in the same period last year.

The lower follow-on deal volume was the reason that, in the first quarter, the sector collectively raised $14.6 billion compared to the $22.7 billion in the same period last year. (See First quarter biopharma financings, below.)

According to BioWorld data, there were 53 global follow-on transactions with 47 of them completed in the U.S. and Canada. Top deal in terms of cash raised involved Sage Therapeutics Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., which priced a public offering for gross proceeds of $575 million. In March, the company won FDA approval for Zulresso (brexanolone) injection for the treatment of postpartum depression. (See BioWorld, March 21, 2019.)

Cambridge, Mass.-based Sarepta Therapeutics Inc. priced an underwritten public offering of 2.6 million shares at $144 each. A further $56.25 million could be generated if the underwriters exercise in full their 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 390,625 shares.

In Europe, Ascendis Pharma A/S, of Copenhagen, completed a public offering of almost $500 million of American depositary shares. The company took advantage of a significant jump in its share value on reporting positive phase III data for its weekly human growth hormone (hGH) therapy, which demonstrated superiority over daily hGH. (See BioWorld, March 5, 2019.)