Business_news These 28 biotech startups have attracted the most VC cash — making them prime candidates for either an acquisition or an IPO


Private financings for biotech companies have accelerated in recent years. That could pave the way for IPOs and M&A.


This story requires our BI Prime membership. To read the full article, simply click here to claim your deal and get access to all exclusive business Insider PRIME content.

  • Venture capital money flowing into biotech over the last few years has led to record levels of private financings, according to a new analysis by Jefferies analyst Michael Yee and his team.
  • Based on industry trends, companies with funding rounds in the last two years could go public next year or in 2021, they said. Those companies could also be targets for M&A.
  • Read on to see the companies with the top 30 fundraising rounds in that time period, which could be IPO candidates or M&A targets.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

It’s a good time to be a private biotech company.

Venture capital funds have been flowing into the industry, prompting record levels of private biotech financings, according to a new analysis from Jefferies analyst Michael Yee and his team.

A large crop of those private companies could be set to go public in 2020 or 2021, or could even get acquired, Yee and team said.

“It will also be interesting to see how many of these may lead to M&A instead of IPOs,” the Jefferies analysts noted. In the last few months, two private biotechs — cancer drugmaker Peloton Therapeutics and cell-therapy company BlueRock Therapeutics— were both sold to big pharma companies.

Being a biotech company in the business of developing new drugs is notoriously risky and expensive. Ballooning capital needs can propel biotechs to either go public or sell themselves before they’re even selling a single drug.

The Jefferies team’s predictions are rooted in what happened in 2017, when private financings gave momentum to a wave of IPOs in 2018 and 2019. Since then, the financing trend has expanded, with 40 to 60 private rounds being announced each Quarter, an increase from 20 to 30 rounds per quarter in 2017, their analysis found.

Read more: These 10 buzzy digital health startups are poised to go public in the next 12 months

Yee and team say that this trend in biotech reflects the overall strength of VC funds right now, with large amounts of capital flowing into them and then out, to startups. The market has also been strong for biotech companies since the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s and especially since the passage of the landmark healthcare law the Affordable Care Act in 2010, they said.

Well-funded VCs are betting heavily on biotechs based on factors like management teams and innovative ideas, but they’re also underestimating how much risk is in the mix, Wedbush analyst David Nierengarten told business Insider.

“I have seen this trend before, and it ends poorly,” he said.

The Jefferies analysis took a look at the top 30 fundraising rounds between May 2017 and August 2019. Read on to see the biotechs that made the cut.

Business_news 28. SpringWorks Therapeutics

SpringWorks Therapeutics is a spinoff from US drug giant Pfizer.

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Round size and year: $125 million in 2019

More about SpringWorks Therapeutics: Pfizer launched this spinoff biopharmaceutical startup in 2017. The company’s furthest-along drug is nirogacestat, which is intended for desmoid tumors, a rare tumor type that currently has no FDA-approved treatments. The drug is currently being studied in late-stage research.

The biotech’s latest funding round was led by the hedge fund Perceptive Advisors. Some other key investors were Pfizer Ventures, British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, and Bain Capital. The funding will be used to move nirogacestat and another drug for rare cancers forward, potentially towards FDA approvals and commercial sale, SpringWorks Therapeutics said.

Compass Therapeutics is developing drugs for diseases like cancer, pictured.

Flickr/Ed Uthman

Round size and year: $132 million in 2018

More about Compass Therapeutics: The biotech company makes drugs intended to engage the human immune system and fend off diseases like cancer, inflammatory conditions and Autoimmune disease.

Much of its pipeline of drugs is still young, with just one experimental drug so far making its way into early-stage research, being tested out in humans.

The series A venture funding in 2018 was led by the investment firm OrbiMed. Other notable investors have included health-tech VC firm F-Prime Capital Partners, Cowen Private Investments and Peter Thiel’s Thiel Capital.

The biotech Tmunity is working on treatments that engage the human immune system to fight off disease.


Round size and year: $135 million in 2018

More about Tmunity: The Philadelphia-based biotech’s work is rooted in T cells, which are a component of the human body’s disease-fighting immune system. Tmunity is developing genetically-engineered T cells to treat many types of cancer. Its two furthest-along experimental drugs are being tested out in early-stage research in humans.

The company’s technology, which comes out of the University of Pennsylvania, could also have implications for infectious diseases and Autoimmune disease. It is valued at $300 million, according to PitchBook.

Beam Therapeutics’s technology uses a new type of gene editing called “base editing.”

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Round size and year: $135 million in 2019

More about Beam Therapeutics: The biotech company is using a new type of CRISPR gene editing called “base editing” in hopes of treating diseases in a more precise way.

Beam Therapeutics was cofounded by David Liu, Feng Zhang, and Keith Joung, pioneers in the CRISPR field, and has technology licensed from places like Harvard and MIT. The company is valued around $675 million, according to PitchBook.

The biotech Ambys is working on drugs for diseases of the liver.

Wikimedia Commons

Round size and year: $140 million in 2018

More about Ambys: The San Francisco-based biotech company is developing technologies like cell therapy, gene therapies, and more traditional targeted drugs for advanced liver diseases.

Its investors include the Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda and VC Third Rock Ventures. Ambys is valued at $160 million, according to PitchBook.

Poseida is developing car-T therapies to fight cancer.


Round size and year: $142 million in 2019

More about Poseida Therapeutics: The San Diego-based biopharmaceutical company is developing car-T treatments, which harness the body’s immune system, with a focus for now on cancers.

So far, the company has four such drugs in its pipeline with one drug, P-BMCA-101, having made it to early-stage research in humans for multiple myeloma.

Earlier this year the company decided to forgo its IPO plans, instead raising a $142 million series C funding round with Swiss drug giant Novartis as one of the major investors.

The company is valued at $568 million, according to PitchBook.

Takeda pharma factory.


Round size and year: $146 million in 2018

More about BioMotiv: The company aims to speed up the process of bringing new drugs to market, investing in a number of companies with a range of approaches to do just that.

BioMotiv also has partnerships with established companies like drugmakers Takeda and Biogen to develop and sell new technologies.

The company has raised nearly $270 million, and its valuation is undisclosed, according to PitchBook.

Stephan Savoia/ AP

Round size and year: $150 million in 2018

More about Ascentage Pharma: The biopharmaceutical company develops small molecule drugs for cancer, Hepatitis B and age-related illnesses.

The company has a number of experimental drugs in the works, including its AT-101 drug, which is mid/late-stage research for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The company planned to go public on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2018, but it was postponed.


Round size and year: $150 million in 2018

More about Galera Therapeutics: Founded in 2009, the biotech company focuses on therapies to target oral mucositis, a side effect of radiotherapy during cancer treatment that causes severe pain in a patient’s mouth.

Galera’s GC4419 drug is in mid-stage research for oral muscositis, for which it has received “breakthrough therapy” and “fast track” designations from the FDA that help speed along drug development.

In August 2018, the company raised $70 million of funding in a series C round led by VC firm Clarus Ventures. The company is valued at around $250 million, according to PitchBook.

CEO and co-founder of Freenome Gabe Otte.


Round size and year: $160 million in 2019

More about Freenome: The San Francisco-based AI genomics company was founded in 2014 and uses routine blood tests with the aim of detecting early signs of cancer. The idea is to detect the disease early before it becomes harder to treat.

In July 2019, the company raised $160 million of Series B venture funding in a deal led by Polaris Partners and RA Capital Management. The funds will be used for a validation study and an application would be submitted for its colorectal cancer screening test to the FDA and CMS under the Parallel Review Program, according to PitchBook.

Lyell is developing cell therapy treatments for cancer.


Round size and year: $179 million in 2019

More about Lyell: The biotech company is focused on treating cancer with cell therapies. Lyell’s goal is to develop cell-based immunotherapies for cancer, with a focus on car-Ts and solid tumors.

It’s named after a Scottish geologist who paved the way for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Earlier this year, the company raised $179 million of Series B venture funding from Foresite Capital Management, ARCH Venture Partners and Altitude Life Science Ventures. The company’s valuation is now at $1.16 billion, according to PitchBook.

17. Helix

Courtesy of Helix

Round size and year: $200 million in 2018

More about Helix: The San Francisco-based company is a DNA testing startup that recently launched a new testing kit that assesses your risk of diseases like breast cancer, colon cancer, and high cholesterol. The company is set to rival the better-known DNA testing company 23andMe.

The test kit is called GenePrism, and is the result of a year-long collaboration between Helix and clinical diagnostics company PerkinElmer.

In May 2019, the company closed two of its four offices and cut an undisclosed number of its staff, Bloomberg News reported. Co-founder Justin Kao told Bloomberg that “we are realigning our business to focus on population health, we are also refocusing our team in support of this goal.”

Read more: A Silicon Valley startup just launched a DNA-based health test that could be a big competitor to 23andMe

A tray of stem cells.

Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Round size and year: $219 million in 2019

More about Sana Biotechnology: The Seattle-based biotech company develops engineered cells to create medicines to treat various diseases.

Founded by Harvard faculty members, Sana also recently licensed new step cell technology from Harvard in hopes of developing cell therapies that don’t need to be personalized to an individual patient, also called an “off-the-shelf” approach.

The company’s founding venture capital firms include ARCH Venture Partners, Flagship Pioneering, and F-Prime Capital, and it is valued at $1.15 billion, according to PitchBook.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

Round size and year: $227 million in 2017

More about EdiGene: The biotech company develops genome editing technologies to create a variety of therapies for different diseases and cancers.

Associated Press /Malcolm Ritter

Round size and year: $200 million in 2018, $240 million in 2017

More about WuXi NextCODE: The US-based company is developing a platform for genomic data. Its investors include Sequoia Capital China and Amgen Ventures.

GettyImages/ Marcia Straub

Round size and year: $250 million in 2018, $203 million in 2017

More about Indigo Agriculture: The Boston-based agricultural tech company uses microbiology and other technology to improve the growth of crops like cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans and rice. According to the company, in 2018 it improved the cotton yield by 14% in commercial fields of West Texas, an improvement from 11% in 2016.

The company has a valuation of $3.5 billion with investors from Activant Capital Group, Alaska Permanent Fund, Baillie Gifford & Co. and Flagship Pioneering, according to CB Insights.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Round size and year: $250 million in 2018

More about Celularity: The New Jersey-based startup, a spinoff from the biotech Celgene, is using stem cells from placentas for various regenerative medicine and cell therapy treatments for cancer. The company currently has six therapies in its pipeline, including two of its furthest-along drugs, which are in early/mid-stage research and intended for multiple myeloma and acute myeloid leukemia.

Investors include United Therapeutics, Human Longevity and Celgene. It is valued at $480 million, according to PitchBook.

sfam_photo/ Shutterstock

Round size and year: $250 million, 2019

More about Anthos Therapeutics: Based in Boston, the biopharmaceutical company is creating targeted therapies for high-risk cardiovascular patients. Earlier this year, the investment company Blackstone Life Sciences and leading pharmaceutical company Novartis launched the company.

As part of the deal, Anthos licensed the targeted therapy, MAA868, which helps multiple cardiovascular disorders, like blood clotting. Blackstone funded the full $250 million and will control the company, while Novartis has a minority stake in Anthos, their press release stated.

Century Therapeutics’ technology uses stem cells in an effort to better fight cancer.


Round size and year: $250 million in 2019

More about Century Therapeutics: The Philadelphia-based biotech is working in a hot new area of cancer research, to develop stem cells that are engineered to kill off cancer tumors.

Read more: Companies have poured $8.5 billion into creating a new version of a cutting-edge, highly personalized cancer treatment

Century Therapeutics was founded in 2018 by the healthcare investment firm Versant Ventures, and has partnerships with German drugmaker Bayer as well as a stem cell-focused subsidiary of the Japanese multinational Fujifilm Corporation. Century Therapeutics is led by Lalo Flores, a veteran of Johnson & Johnson and Merck, and it has raised about $280 million total, according to PitchBook.

Brii Biosciences aims to bring medicines to China, at a time that the pharmaceutical market there is getting more attention from US investors.

REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

Round size and year: $260 million in 2018

More about Brii Biosciences: The biotech is centered around bringing therapeutic innovations to China, where patients haven’t always had access to them.

It was launched last year with advisors like Alnylam CEO John Maraganore and a board of directors that includes noted biotech VC Robert Nelsen and former Biogen CEO George Scangos.

Brii Biosciences has operations in both China and the US and is led by Zhi Hong, a onetime GlaxoSmithKline senior VP. It has raised $260 million from investors like Nelsen’s ARCH Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital, according to PitchBook.

ADC Therapeutics’ furthest-along experimental drug is being tested out in various types of lymphoma, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, pictured.

Wikimedia Commons

Round size and year: $276 million in 2019

More about ADC Therapeutics: The cancer-focused ADC Therapeutics was founded in 2011 and is based in Switzerland. It’s led by Chris Martin, who sold his last company, Spirogen, to AstraZeneca in 2013.

ADC Therapeutics has raised $551 million at an undisclosed valuation, according to PitchBook. The company was in the early stages of exploring options like an IPO in the fall of 2018, for an estimated value of about $2 billion, Bloomberg News reported then.

The biotech Viela Bio is focused on Autoimmune disease and inflammation.

Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Round size and year: $282 million in 2018

More about Viela Bio: The Gaithersburg, Maryland-based biotech makes drugs for Autoimmune conditions and diseases of inflammation by targeting certain pathways in the body.

Viela Bio has finished late-stage research for its furthest-along product, an experimental medicine for the central nervous system disorder neuromyelitis optica, and plansvto file with the FDA for a review of the medicine.

Since it started as a spinoff from AstraZeneca’s MedImmune, Viela has raised $357 million at a valuation of $735 million, according to PitchBook.

Harmony Biosciences is developing a drug for narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that affects an individual’s sleep cycles.

Abbie Bernet/Unsplash

Round size and year: $295 million in 2018

More about Harmony Biosciences: The Pennsylvania-based biotech was founded in 2017 and is currently focused on developing a new medication for narcolepsy, which affects up to 200,000 Americans and for which “there have been no new advancements to treat the most disruptive symptoms of this disorder in over a decade,” according to its Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Dayno.

It filed with the FDA for review of the narcolepsy drug earlier this year. Harmony Biosciences has raised nearly $500 million, according to PitchBook.

Rakuten Medical founder and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani.

Michael Seto

Round size and year: $350 million in 2018

More about Rakuten Medical: The San Mateo, California-based biotech is focused on new therapeutic approaches to treating cancer, using a tech platform that it hopes will get the immune system to fight cancer without harming normal, non-cancerous tissue.

The biotech is led by the Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, who is also founder and CEO of the large Japanese e-commerce retailer Rakuten. Mikitani says he was inspired to fund the cancer research after his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012.

Rakuten Medical has raised about $470 million and is valued at $1.15 billion, according to PitchBook. Both Mikitani and Rakuten have invested in Rakuten Medical.

Relay Therapeutics CEO Sanjiv Patel.

Relay Therapeutics

Zymergen is a synthetic biology company that works in both the tech and science sectors.


Round size and year: $407 million in 2018

More about Zymergen: The Silicon Valley-based startup is using synthetic biology to make completely new products across sectors like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, electronics and personal care.

The idea is to make manufacturing cheaper, faster and more environmentally sustainable by grounding it in cells, versus traditional, petrochemical-based routes. One of Zymergen’s new projects is a safe, nontoxic insect repellant, CEO Joshua Hoffman told business Insider late last year.

Read more: A Silicon Valley startup with 26 patents under its belt just raised $400 million from SoftBank and Goldman Sachs to make materials from living things

To that aim, the startup has raised nearly $600 million, and is valued at nearly $1 billion, according to PitchBook.

George Scangos, a biotech veteran who previously led Biogen, now leads Vir as CEO and a member of the board of directors.

Thomson Reuters

Round size and year: $416 million in 2018

More about Vir: Founded by Robert Nelsen, who Forbes has called “biotech’s top venture capitalist,” the San Francisco, California-based Vir has raised $566 million at an undisclosed valuation, according to PitchBook.

Led by former Biogen CEO George Scangos, Vir is working to develop drugs for chronic infectious diseases like hepatitis B and HIV, respiratory diseases like the flu, and infections that patients get while in the hospital.

Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves.


Round size and year: $615 million in 2017

More about Intarcia: The Boston, Massachusetts-based biotech is developing drugs for chronic diseases like obesity and HIV. The biotech’s furthest-along product is an implant for type 2 Diabetes that’s intended to reduce how often patients need injections.

Intarcia is valued at about $4.1 billion, according to PitchBook, with investors including Fidelity, New Enterprise Associates, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


BI Prime

Chevron icon
It indicates an expandable section or menu, or sometimes previous / next navigation options.

Close icon
Two crossed lines that form an ‘X’. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification.

Check mark icon
A check mark. It indicates a confirmation of your intended interaction.