Unicorns are private fast-growing companies valued more than a billion euro/dollars. This club is getting bigger and bigger, 146 companies while I’m writing this article (look at the full list on the Wall Street Journal). There is a very reduced number of Biotech unicorns worldwide and even less in Europe. There are actually only 3: Oxford Nanopore, CureVac and Immunocore.

N°1: Oxford Nanopore – the Future of Next-Gen Sequencing?


Value (private): €2Bn (July 2015)

Total raised: €345M

Founded: 2005

City: Oxford, UK

Mission: Oxford Nanopore is a platform that lead applications in DNA sequencing, protein analysis for diagnostics and drug development and identification of a range of other molecules. It uses nanotechnology instead of fluorescence, like what Illumina (US) is doing.

Why is it a Unicorn? Oxford Nanopore has the technology which could further break down the price of sequencing (single euros instead of thousands of euros). And more than reduced prices, it makes sequencing also portable and available everywhere.  The main challenge remains the reliability of the devices, which up to now, is at 60-70% precision comparing to Illumina’s sequencer reaching over 90% precision. Once this is fixed, this biotech could potentially be the game-changer in personalised medicine.

Update 23/02/2016: Accuracy can be measured as raw or assembled. A publication in Nature suggest 99.5% accuracy of an assembled sample(specifically on 16S rRNA) whereas another Nature Methods from 2014 suggest 15% error – so 85% accuracy of a raw sample.

N°2: CureVac – the Next Game-changer in Biologicals?


Mixing up of CureVac Graphics (Source: CureVac)

Value (private): €1.5Bn (November 2015)

Total raised: €300M

Founded: 2000

City: Tübingen, Germany

Mission: CureVac is the leading company in messenger RNA (mRNA) based drugs with more than 15 years of expertise and the most advanced and broadest clinical pipeline in the industry. It’s most advanced drug is in advanced Phase II (Moderna is only in Phase I).

Why is it a unicorn? mRNA therapies could change the way we design drugs. It could be an as big game-changer as monoclonal antibodies have been. It has provided incredible results so far and the manufacturing cost is almost anecdotal compared to proteins. This opens up a huge market opportunity and explains this crazy valuation.

N°3: Immunocore – Europe’s largest private Biotech round ever

immunocore headquarter

Value (private): Around €1Bn

Total raised: €300M

Founded: 2008

City: Oxford, UK

Mission: Immunocore is developing biological therapeutics for the treatment of serious diseases. Its world-leading T cell receptor technology exploits the body’s own immune system to kill diseased cells. The most impressive thing about Immunocore is the last private round it raised: $320M. That’s simply the biggest private financing round for a European Biotech company ever!

Why is it a unicorn? Immunocore is exploiting the potential of immuno-therapy without its drawbacks, the main one being costs of manufacturing. Immune-Oncology cell therapies, like CAR-T, are estimated to cost over €250k/treatment whereas Immunocore’s TAC receptors could be at similar prices as monoclonal antibodies.

These 3 companies are clearly success-stories and could become the next leading Biotech in Europe. What do you think about them? Do they deserve their Unicorn Flag?

P.S. I’m extremely proud to announce as well that the Founder & CEO of CureVac Ingmar Hoerr will be at Labiotech Refresh on May 24th in Berlin. This should be an important enough reason to attend 😉

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