Although biotech financing in the UK took a hit last year in large part thanks to uncertainty around Brexit, 2019 was still the British industry’s third-best year on record.
The UK’s exit from the European Union looms large over all British industries, including pharmaceuticals and biotech. Unsurprisingly, therefore, UK biotech investment in 2019 dipped below the levels seen in 2018. As Marcus Stuttard, head of UK Markets and AIM at the London Stock Exchange has noted, “Given the record-breaking level of capital raised across the sector in 2018, it is not unexpected that capital raising was down in 2019 across public and private markets particularly given the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit.”
However, according to a recent report by the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), there is still much cause for optimism in UK biotech. The BIA report asserts that the UK is the third largest global bio-cluster, behind Boston and the Bay area and that the industry’s overall growth trajectory is positive, noting that investment has increased by over 400 percent since 2012.
The BIA report uncovered several key trends from 2019:
- A total of GBP 1.3 billion was raised by UK-based biotech companies in 2019, making it the third best year ever.
- GBP 679 million was raised in venture capital, with GBP 64 million raised in Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) and GBP 596 million in all other public financings.
- The sector has seen five consecutive years of raising over GBP 1 billion of investment.
- In venture capital financing, three UK biotechs managed to raise above GBP 50 million, down from eight such deals in 2018.
- The UK remains the leading cluster in Europe for amounts raised through venture capital, accounting for 26 per cent of the continent’s total.
2019 saw seven M&A deals involving UK biotech, with Boston Scientific topping the list with its purchase of BTG at GBP 4.3 billion. In venture capital, Achilles Therapeutics came out on top with GBP 100 million in Series B financing, with Syncona Investment Management as its largest investor. According to Elisa Petris, Partner at Syncona, the company “deployed significant capital into UK innovation in 2019, both into existing and new portfolio companies.”
IPOs around the world saw an overall decline from 2018, partially due to more abundant venture capital money, less public market appetite and more market volatility. UK biotechs followed the same trend, choosing to remain private for longer: the only two IPOs in 2019 were Bicycle Therapeutics for GBP 47 million on the NASDAQ and Diaceutics for GBP 17 million on London’s AIM Stock Exchange.
Global investors see great value in UK biotech and have focused on funding breakthrough technologies such as cell and gene therapies, genomics and digital. The therapeutic area of oncology attracted the most funds, although there was an uptick in earlier-stage financing for biotechs pursuing opportunities in rare diseases or artificial intelligence.