As the 2017 reports roll in, we’re already turning our gaze to 2018. These are the top European biotech companies to watch in the new year.
The results from last year are rolling in, and it seems to be a mixed bag. Generalist investors are backing away from biotech, but the FDA approved a record number of drugs. The drugs in question include major innovations like CAR-T therapy and America’s first gene therapy for a rare eye disease, but despite the fuss about pricing, nothing seems to have changed as the prices for these both remain sky high. In terms of M&A, 2017 was unimpressive (with the notable exception of Actelion), but soothsayers believe this is the year…just like last year.
But forget about all of this, 2018 is a clean slate. Here is a list of the top biotechs to watch as they try to make their mark on medicine.
As usual, this list is in no particular order.
Self-proclaimed biotech “serial killer” Jean-Paul Clozel and his wife Martine are at it again after selling Actelion: The R&D pipeline of their “victim” has been spun out to form a new company, Idorsia. [Insert American Psycho joke about a homicidal maniac having a place at a restaurant called Dorsia.] The new-ish company came out swinging this summer with results for its insomnia drug that will see it from Phase II to Phase III and has already signed an immunotherapy partnership with Roche and an option agreement with Actelion’s acquirer, J&J, for a hypertension treatment. Stay tuned to see what Idorsia and its broad pipeline will come up with next.
Ablynx has been around since 2002, and it’s finally poised to bring its first drug to market this year. The Belgian biotech’s nanobody, a llama antibody-based drug, proved effective at treating a deadly autoimmune blood disorder, and the results were announced not two days before launching one of the largest biotech Nasdaq IPOs of the year that continues to perform well — all without a partner. As CEO Edwin Moses told Clara, Ablynx plans to launch its aTTP drug in Q3 in Germany this year, with the goal of a US market entry in early 2019.
GW Pharma is a company that even those outside of biotech are familiar with: Its the company making marijuana less scary whose stock was a surprise overperformer last year. With expectations high, it may not be able to keep up the hype, but the company might join the blockbuster club this year with the launch of Epidiolex, provided it is approved by the FDA. (An MAA to the EMA has also been submitted.)
In the face of the growing antibiotic crisis, Motif Bio might have a product to add to medicine’s arsenal next year. Iclaprim returned positive Phase III results last fall, setting up the UK-based biotech to apply for market approval early this year, starting with the US. The company most recently took out a €17M loan for the effort.
GenSight has been trumpeting durable sight restoration in patients with a rare genetic disease, thanks to its gene therapy that takes a very efficient route through the eye. The therapy is currently in Phase III, and a readout is expected this year. If it works, it could be one of the first gene therapies since the watershed approval of Spark’s own gene therapy for a rare genetic eye disease.
Oxford spinout NightstaRx is also making waves in gene therapy for rare eye diseases. It raised €40M in a Series C last year before going public on Nasdaq in a $75M (€64M) IPO. All of the proceeds will go towards a Phase III pivotal study for its lead program in chloroideremia, expected to start in the first half of this year.
GammaDelta Therapeutics is taking a whole new approach to T cells by focusing on the gamma-delta variety, which may have potential in allogeneic cell therapy. Since the company raised seed funding from the likes of Abingworth in September 2016 and recruited oncology veteran Paolo Paoletti to lead the company in May last year, GammaDelta signed a major partnership with Takeda to develop its technology for cancer and autoinflammatory diseases. While it’s still at an early stage of scientific and business development, we’re looking forward to seeing where GammaDelta goes this year.
We’re about to see the funding power of Kymab brought to bear. The company has raised $220M (€190M) so far, without a single candidate in the clinic. As CEO David Chiswell told us, the company has chosen “a very tricky path to follow, and [it’s] very expensive.” The first candidate from its mouse-based antibody discovery platform, Kymouse, entered the clinic last year, with a readout scheduled for 2019. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any interim data after the treatment completion in the first half of this year.
DNA Script attracted the interest of none other than Illumina Ventures when it raised €11M in a Series A last year. The French synbio startup aims to revolutionize DNA synthesis and have its enzyme-based technology ready for industrial scale-up next year. CEO and co-founder Thomas Ybert sees DNA as the next silicon — indeed, some of the biggest news last year was Horizon2020’s launch of a biocomputer — and DNA Script wants to lead this transition by defining the DNA synthesis market. Stay tuned for updates and details on their product’s development.
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