Until Talecris Biotherapeutics Holdings Corp. broke the ice in October, no Triangle company had gone public in more than two years. Talecris, based in Research Triangle Park, did it in a big way — raising $950 million, the second-largest initial public offering in the U.S. this year. That brought a sigh of relief from executives of life-science companies — and venture capitalists seeking to cash out of them.
But Talecris is bigger than most life-science companies in the region. Two private-equity firms launched the company in 2005 when they bought German pharma giant Bayer AG’s plasma business, the roots of which reach back 67 years. And unlike many biotechs, it’s profitable, netting $66 million last year. It also doesn’t carry the same scientific, technical and regulatory risks as those still trying to develop a product, says Garheng Kong, who specializes in life-sciences companies for Intersouth Partners, a Durham venture-capital firm.
The truer test will come if and when Durham-based Aldagen Inc. goes through with its $80.5 million IPO, probably sometime after the first of the year. Aldagen is a money-losing company trying to develop drugs from adult stem cells. If it goes public, the window of opportunity opens a little wider for similar companies, some of them already considering an IPO. “We’re expecting 2010 to be much more active than 2009,” says Eric Linsley, managing partner of Pappas Ventures in Durham.
Aldagen scrapped a plan to go public a year ago amid the worldwide financial meltdown. It refiled in October, four weeks after Talecris went public, but there’s no guarantee the market will be favorable when it’s ready to pull the trigger. For one thing, health-care reform being debated in Congress creates uncertainty that could keep investors on the sidelines. “People want to make bets around a system they understand and a system that rewards innovation,” Linsley says. “Right now, it’s not really clear to us where all that is going to settle out.”
John Richert, vice president of business and technology development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, knows how fast things can change. He was director of business development for Durham-based Sphinx Pharmaceuticals Corp. when it went public in early 1992. There had been a flurry of IPOs that month. The window of opportunity was open. “And the day after we did that, the window shut down. We were branded as the company that shut the IPO window.”