by Giuliana Miglierini
One year after the Brexit, the UK’s economic landscape is far from being suffering for leaving the European Union. On the contrary, 2021 has been a record year for many sectors, including UK’s biotech and life sciences. A recent report from the BioIndustry Association (BIA) and Clarivate shows that £4.5 billion was raised in public and private financings in the field, £1.7 bln (60%) more than in 2020.
“There is an obvious gap that we must plug in the UK’s financing environment. The large fundraises seen in 2021 are largely the result of welcome overseas investment, meaning that significant value creation will also be offshored. History has handed the UK two world-leading sectors: life sciences and finance. A symbiosis should exist between these two, but it doesn’t, yet. There is great opportunity to turbo-charge the UK’s biotech and life sciences sector and capture more of its economic value for the UK by building better connections between the UK’s financial institutions and our innovative scaling businesses”, said Steve Bates OBE, Chief Executive of the BIA.
A higher attractiveness than the US
More in detail, UK companies attracted more than half of all biotech venture capital in 2021, for a total value in the period 1 December 2020 – 30 November 2021 of £2,518 million (+81%from 2020; 56% of total investments). Even higher has been the increase of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), for a total of £1,304 million (+434% from 2020; 29% of total); all other public financings raised £684 million (15% of total). Thirteen investment deals were more than £100meach (vs 3 in 2020), and a further 27 raised more than £20 million each (vs 12 in 2020).
The positive trends of investments marked in 2021 are not unique to the UK; the level of venture capital investments raised 10% in the last year compared to 2020, reaching the global value of £28.1 billion for the biotech sector. The attractiveness of the UK reached 79%, compared to 49% for the US’s Boston Massachusetts cluster, while the San Francisco one marked -21%; total investments in the US reached £18.8 billion (+11%). Negative trends characterised Europe (-12%venture investments, for a total of £5 billion) and China (-12%, £3.4 bln).
“We value the significant investment that comes from overseas, but we must complement it with the full financial firepower of the City of London so that more companies stay in the UK. This is why our ambitious 2021 Life Sciences Vision sets out our firm commitment to helping UK life sciences and biotech firms access long-term scale-up capital from investors here at home, who are committed to building successful companies. Scaling up UK companies will help both grow our economy and improve access to innovative diagnostics and treatments.”, added George Freeman MP, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.
Venture capitals looking for new opportunities
The UK has been a key point of innovation during the pandemic, generating many new vaccines and treatment opportunities. The interest of investors in UK’s science is acknowledged by the£128 million invested into startup companies, more than four times the amount seen in previous years. A trend that paralleled later-stage rounds of financings into mature projects.
The bigger deal (£195 mln fundraise prior to the London IPO) involved Oxford Nanopore, a company specialised in the development of innovative sensing techniques based on the use of nanopores embedded in high-tech electronics. These can be used to sequence small or large fragments of DNA and RNA, for example; the platform may be also adapted for the detection of other types of molecules, e.g. proteins.
At the second place is the Exscientia’s deal (£158 mln, round D). The company offers AI-driven drug discovery services aimed to deeply innovate how new medicines are developed. Its AI platform is being used to completely design from scratch new molecules; algorithms are used also to optimise properties in parallel, rather than sequentially, and to reduce the overall development time thanks to the higher capacity of analysis of complex data.
Vaccitech attracted the third deal (£118 mln, round B); the company is the spin-off of the Oxford University specifically created to commercialise the technology platform behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
IPOs reached record values
Oxford Nanopore and Exscentia also represent the higher values for IPOs operated by UK biotech companies in 2021. The former deal worth £350 million, representing the largest amount raised in a listing on the London Stock Exchange by a biotech company. Exscentia attracted a £256mln value at Nasdaq; the total amount raised by UK biotech through IPOs in 2021 reached £1.3billion (42.8% of all the money raised by UK biotechs at IPO in the past decade, a huge amount if compared to the £244 million raised in 2020).
Three companies were listed at the London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM): Poolberg Pharma (£25 mln) is a clinical stage infectious diseases pharmaceutical company, aiming to become a “one-stop shop” to find Phase II ready products for development and commercialisation. Arecor Therapeutics (£20 mln) has developed a proprietary platform for the reformulation of already available medicines, while BiVictriX Therapeutics (£7,5 mln) is developing new targeted cancer therapies.
When looking at the international scenario, 133 companies raised £19 billion in IPOs in 2021 at the global level (+30% vs 2020). In the US, 86 companies raised £9.7 billion; the most attractive biotech clusters were again Boston Massachusetts and San Francisco. The number of IPOs in Europein creased to 29 (vs 12 in 2020), for a total of £3.3 billion raised (+218% vs 2020); to this instance, according to BIA’s report the UK accounted for 31% of the European IPOs and 40% of the capital raised. No significant changes involved listed companies in China (14), but on this market the average IPO was three-times larger than that achieved by the average American or European listing.
Follow-on financing of quoted biotech companies almost halved in 2021 compared to the previous, record year (£684 million vs £1.18 billion raised, respectively).
A main contribution came from Blackstone’s investement in Autolus at the Nasdaq (£183 million) to support the development of the company’s CAR-T cell therapy currently in Phase III stage of development. A strategic investment of £50 million in Oxford Biomedica, received from the Serum Institute of India, will support the expansion of the advanced therapy manufacturing facilities near Oxford.
Mergers & Acquisitions and Licensing deals
Jazz Pharmaceuticals acquired in 2021 GW Pharma, a company specialised in the development and commercialisation of cannabinoid-based epilepsy treatments. The biotech Kymab, thoseplatform is used for the development of fully-human monoclonal antibodies, was acquired by Sanofi in a deal involving £1,073 million upfront payment and up to $350 million in milestone payments.
The licensing deal signed between AstraZeneca and VaxEquity would allow the multinational company to use the University College London spin-out’s saRNA platform for the development of up to 26 drug targets.
Early-stage biotech companies are often supported by research grants; to this instance UK’s biotech received in 2021 over £50m in non-dilutive grant funding.