Brainstorm Health: Moderna Record IPO, Walgreens Prescription Delivery, Uterine Cancer Rise

Happy Friday, readers!

Amid a rocky market that’s whipsawed on a near-daily basis, Moderna Therapeutics pulled off the improbable late Thursday: An historic IPO in which it raised more than $600 million. At a price of $23 per share, Moderna sold more than 26 million shares, setting up an approximately $7.5 billion valuation (although, amid the overall market turbulence and some important questions about the company, Moderna stock still fell nearly 20% in Friday afternoon trading).

Moderna’s $604 million IPO raise is the biggest in biotech history (the firm had originally aimed for a $500 million raise before upping the ante last week). The massive $1.4 billion market value drop on its first trading day on the Nasdaq has raised some recriminations. But the more important longer-term question is: Can Moderna follow through on its ambitious drug development plans, given that it has no products on the market? And what does the case study suggest about the future of biotech IPOs generally?

On the first front: It’s certainly not rare for American biotech companies to go public before having a commercialized product on hand. In fact, money raised in public offerings is often seen as essential by the industry to fund expensive R&D and clinical trials which, admittedly, may end in failure. (I.e., high risk, high reward.)

Moderna’s pipeline is based on something called “mRNA” technology. To put it very simply, this kind of approach could essentially turn the body’s very cells into drug making factories that can then tackle a number of diseases, including cancer, infectious diseases like Zika, the flu, heart disease, and multiple other conditions. Moderna has more than 20 experimental candidates in its pipeline, with the most advanced one in phase 2 clinical trials and the others in phase 1.

The fact that the company has raised so much money, including well before its IPO, without much in the way of evidence that its proposed technology actually works has understandably fostered some criticism. But it’s also indicative of a new age in public biotech investing—one in which companies and investors alike may be more shielded from the risk of devastating clinical trial failures by experimental stage biotechs.

“It used to be that biotechs were a lottery ticket,” Jordan Saxe, head of health care listings at Nasdaq (on which Moderna and the vast majority of newly public biotechs have IPO’d), tells Fortune in an interview. “So what you’d do is buy a portfolio of these companies that are bundled up. So the investor wouldn’t necessarily feel the pain of one company’s failure, the risk was mostly on the company side.”

But the rise of what Saxe calls the “third wave” of biotech IPOs, wherein public companies’ technology has evolved to the point of providing personalized medicine backed by wide-ranging biological platforms (that is, underlying tech that can be used to produce an eclectic mix of drugs across the disease spectrum), has given both drug makers and investors more cover.

“Because of the platform company approach, these biotechs have ten or 12 different assets, not just one,” says Saxe. That means one catastrophic failure doesn’t necessarily spell doom; other products can make up for a miss—if the underlying technology platform (in Moderna’s case, mRNA therapies), actually pans out.

Whether or not that will happen is the multi-billion dollar question. But Saxe expects that public offerings my platform companies will continue to thrive in 2019.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.


Brain implants could help patients use tablets. Stanford University researchers say that brain implants may one day help paralyzed people operate devices such as smartphones and tablets, harnessing their very thoughts to use such technology with the help of brain wave-reading sensors. "We are still likely a number of years away from having a fully implantable, FDA-approved device that would be available for widespread use," lead study author Jaimie Henderson tells Reuters. "However, I’m convinced that most of the technological hurdles have been solved and that we will one day in the near future see assistive devices that allow people with paralysis to control a computer using only their thoughts." (Reuters)


Walgreens teams up with FedEx for prescription home delivery. Walgreens is joining the next-day prescription home delivery train, expanding its partnership with FedEx to take the service nationwide. As with most companies moving into this space, there's a decent chance that the specter of Amazon (and its recent PillPack acquisition) has something to do with the move. "Next-day prescription home delivery is another convenience driver, alongside our industry leading number of extended hours pharmacies and one of the most downloaded digital apps in the category, designed to put care in the hands of our patients," said Walgreens president of operations Richard Ashworth in a statement. "This expansion of our alliance with FedEx illustrates our commitment to making filling prescriptions as fast and easy as possible."


The murder rate has plunged over the past three decades. Millennials are, ostensibly, killing everything from marriage to home ownership to God knows what else. They may also be killing, well, killing, according to new FBI data. The agency announced that the murder rate in 2017 fell to a 33-year low, declining to 15,533 murders last year. The violent crime rate was also at a 21-year-low. However, the sharp drops have some experts concerned that the trend could reverse in the coming decade. (ABC News)

Uterine cancer is on the rise, especially among minorities. A new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report finds that, while cancer death rates in general are on the decline, the rate of uterine cancer spiked in 2015. The agency says this is likely related to rises in obesity (a risk factor for uterine cancer), and deaths from the disease disproportionately affect black women. (Fortune)


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