More firms weigh IPOs as biotech fever reaches Europe

Thu Mar 13, 2014 12:51pm EDT
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By Ben Hirschler and Caroline Copley

LONDON/ZURICH (Reuters) - Biotech fever is spreading to Europe from the United States with a successful stock market debut for a cat allergy company in Britain seen as a bellwether that could help unlock listings in other countries including Switzerland and France.

Top candidates for a share sale include Swiss firms AC Immune and Molecular Partners, which are both weighing up a possible initial public offering (IPO), according to people familiar with the companies.

Geneva-based Novimmune IPO-NOVI.S named Andrew Oakley, the former chief financial officer of Europe's biggest biotech Actelion ATLN.VX, as its new finance chief on Wednesday - also raising expectations that the firm is beefing up its management team in preparation to go public.

Sentiment was given a major boost on Thursday when British allergy drug development firm Circassia (CIRCI.L: Quote) raised around 581 million pounds ($965 million) in its London listing, a record-breaking sum for a European biotech.

"The market is receptive to good companies that have got a well thought out story," Circassia Chief Executive Steve Harris told Reuters. "I don't know that there will be a lot, but I'm sure there are a number of other good quality companies that will come to market in Europe."

With the IPO window nudging open, companies that in the past might have opted for a trade sale to larger pharmaceutical companies are now considering a share listing instead.

One venture capital backer of several European biotechs said banks were now "super active" in seeking IPO business.

"There is growing noise suggesting the IPO market is opening up in Europe and, in fact, it would be surprising if it didn't. There is normally a lag of about a year from the U.S. taking off and Europe following," said Francesco De Rubertis, a leading biotech investor at Index Ventures in London.   Continued...

A group photo of staff at Swiss based AC Immune courtesy of the company. REUTERS/AC Immune