Vantage Report 2018: Research Dragged, but Biotech IPOs and Startups Soared

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Evaluate recently published the Vantage Pharma, Biotech and Medtech 2018 in review report. The annual report offers insights into the previous year’s activities in biopharma and the medical device industry. It was, in many ways, an unusual year. Biopharma was not alone in noting a strong market—until the fourth quarter, when, like most other industries, investors took a hit as most stock gains were lost in record losses. However, the report notes that “big pharma retained its status as something of a safe haven, while medtech companies also escaped much of the damage.”

Here’s a look at what the report has to say about biopharma in 2018.


As mentioned above, the stock markets overall took a hit at the end of the year. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index, for example, lost a fifth of its value in that final quarter. Up to that point, it had risen about 15 percent, ending the year with an overall drop in 9 percent. Other indices were similarly down, with the Dow Jones Pharma and Biotech (US) flat at 0 percent; S&P 500 (US) down by 6 percent; and Euro STOXX 50 (EU) down by 15 percent. S&P Pharmaceuticals (US) was the only index listed as positive, at 5 percent.

As the report notes, “The anemic 5 percent full-year increase in the S&P Pharmaceuticals index, for instance, only looks impressive because all the other key biopharma indices ended 2018 either flat or in the red.”

The safe harbor aspects of the big pharma were also a bit mixed. Takeda—with investors likely soured by its $64 billion Shire takeover—ended the year down 19.8 percent and Bayer was down 42.3 percent. Novo Nordisk was down 11 percent and Gilead was down 13 percent. The report notes, “Amgen found itself in the top gainers club only thanks to a $10 billion share buyback; its market cap actually shrank 1 percent over 2018.”

GlaxoSmithKline came out 13 percent up, Eli Lily was up 29.7 percent, Merck & Co. was up a whopping 47 percent, and Pfizer came out 35.8 percent.

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Mergers & Acquisitions

Last year was a quiet year for mergers and acquisitions. The report notes that it’s easy to forget how slow it was since the Celgene and Loxo Oncology deals came on the scene in the very first weeks of 2019. But, the report says, “Make no mistake, it was slow: even in the post-financial crash years the sector managed to sign more transactions than in 2018.”

This actually appears to be a bit of a trend. The hottest year in recent history was 2015, with $188.9 billion worth of deals out of 290 deals. But 2016 had 205 deals worth a total of $107.2 billion, 2017 had 183 deals worth $79 billion, and 2018, though the value was up—a total of $136.5 billion—the overall total was down, 163 deals.

The report notes, “Those who think the deal desert is finally coming into bloom again should probably remember that the last three years all opened impressively, but then went on to wilt.”

The biggest deal of 2018 was Takeda’s $64.2 billion acquisition of Shire and Sanofi’s $11.6 billion acquisition of Bioverativ.

Venture Capital

Venture capital was big last year. There was a total of almost $17 billion in funding rounds, although the actual number of financings was the lowest in a decade. The report notes, “The sum raised smashed 2017’s previous record by an impressive 39 percent; the venture world saw unprecedented investment activity across all sectors last year, and biopharma was no exception. Still, many assume that 2018 will not be repeated—the second quarter of the year looks to have been the peak—meaning the extent of any slowdown remains a big question for 2019.”

Although it slowed toward the end of the year, VC investment is expected to continue strong this year, and the initial public offering (IPO) marketing was so strong in 2018 that it shows promise for exits.

Top venture rounds for 2018 were Moderna, with a $500 million round in February and Samumed, with a 438 million Series A round in August.


Oh, my yes, 2018 was a big year for biopharma IPOs! Several new records were set, even despite a government shutdown and stock market roller coaster in December. IPOs raised $7.23 billion in the industry, with the average amount over $100 million, the first time ever. There were 68 IPOs in the sector, the most since 2015 (78). Of those IPOs, 31 raised more than $100 million.

The report noted, “An examination of quarterly trends also shows few signs of the turmoil on the markets in the fourth quarter. Many assumed that the October sell-off would puncture the biopharma IPO bubble, but notably two of the year’s biggest flotations—Moderna and Allogene—got away in the final months of the year.”

Moderna raised $604 million in its IPO and Allogene raised $373 million in its public launch.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 62 novel medicines in 2018, what the report calls “a new benchmark of productivity.”

The report goes a step further, however, to compare the commercial potential of each year’s cohort, even though many of those sales have to be projected. For example, the report states, “This new approval record is slightly tarnished when looking at the commercial potential of each year’s cohort: 2017 remains the banner year for combined 5th-year sales. This is not to say that 2018 was disappointing: last year’s new arrivals are forecast to be selling $24 billion by 2023, signaling that biopharma’s R&D engines remain in good condition.”

The projections for the top 5 potential launches in 2019 by 2024 sales are: Alexion’s Ultomiris ($3.48 billion); AbbVie’s Upadacitinib ($2.18 billion); AbbVie’s Risankizumab ($2.08 billion); bluebird bio’s LentiGlobin ($1.89 billion); and Aimmune’s AR101 ($1.75 billion).

Looking Ahead to 2019

The stock market appears to have stabilized, although the stock market, pretty much by definition, fluctuates and isn’t nearly that predictable. The year started with big acquisitions involving Celgene, Loxo Oncology and Tesaro, it appeared to quiet down in February.

One issue expected to affect the industry this year (and maybe every year) is drug pricing. The report notes that “many big pharma executives have warned that price hikes will be harder and harder to push through. If volume is the game, then offering clear innovation will become ever more important. But few big companies boast well-stocked pipelines, however, so perhaps those hoping for an uptick in takeover this year have another reason for optimism.”

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