Biotech M&A: No Easy Exits Anymore
This article was originally published in The Pink Sheet Daily
Biotech acquisitions are the only viable exit strategy for most private investors, but an analysis by Start Up suggests the market has peaked.
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In a still-frozen IPO market, acquisition has become the go-to exit for biotech VCs, but an analysis of the past four years' deals suggests the market may have peaked. Of more than 180 private biotech acquisitions since 2005, fewer than half in each year resulted in a reliable exit for investors, and those numbers are trending downward. Although the most active acquirers amounted to a list of the usual suspects, the bulk of acquisitions were conducted by a diverse set of smaller public and still-private firms. We also review the characteristics of those companies that have had success in terms of good exits for investors.
With the IPO market as bad as it's ever been and acquisitions uncertain, VCs are looking around for alternative exits for their late-stage companies. One strategy being discussed: selling their late-stage start-ups, to PE-backed private-company acquirers -- acquirers which are by and large still to be created. These mega-startups would have access to plenty of capital (just not public capital) and would be looking to build businesses all the way to profitability, at which point these could be sold to someone else or go public in a very liquid offering. But while there's enough money in private equity to accomplish the strategy, it's hardly straightforward - and for now the talk of this alternative path to liquidity through private equity is just that: talk.
Over the past three years, acquisitions have outperformed IPOs in terms of step-ups and total value. Here we take a look at the average valuations each year for the two exit categories. The figures suggest that although IPO is the logical exit, in most cases investors will advocate exploring M&A almost all of the time as well.