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CureVac grabs $213M in US IPO, adding to year’s record pace

German biotech CureVac, a developer of vaccines and drugs for cancer, rare and infectious diseases, raised $213.3 million in an initial public offering in the U.S., pricing 13.33 million shares Thursday at $16 apiece.The drugmaker plans to use much of the proceeds to push its experimental coronavirus vaccine through clinical development. Like other, more advanced candidates in development by Moderna and BioNTech, CureVac’s vaccine uses messenger RNA to deliver genetic instructions into cells. Moderna and BioNTech are already in large-scale trials, while CureVac began its first study in June and has yet to report results.The offering extends a record-breaking year for biotech IPOs, which serve as a bellwether for a sector that’s taken center stage as coronavirus treatments and vaccines have progressed. CureVac is the fifth mRNA drug developer to go public since 2018, reflecting growing investor interest in the cutting-edge, yet unproven, technology.

CureVac has been around for nearly 20 years, but it picked the perfect time to pull the trigger on a U.S. IPO.

The biotech sector shrugged off a slow spring for IPOs — the height of COVID-19-related lockdown measures in the U.S. — to blow past its previous record pace. Biotech offerings had raised $9.4 billion as of Aug. 7, compared to $6.5 billion in all of 2018, The Wall Street Journal has reported. There have now been 45 biotech IPOs in 2020, versus 30 by this point last year.

That’s part of a larger trend for biotech, which has outgained the broader market as coronavirus drug research has drawn billions of dollars in government support.

CureVac has benefited from both. In January, the biotech partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to start work on the vaccine, and has since received more than $340 million from the German government and another $170 million through an alliance with GlaxoSmithKline. Private investors have chipped in $126 million more.

But the company has also skirted controversy, becoming the subject of an international fracas in March when reports surfaced the U.S. government had attempted to secure exclusive access to its candidate. Both the company’s CEO Daniel Menichella and his successor, founder Ingmar Hoerr, stepped aside in quick succession, though a top CureVac investor claimed that was “pure coincidence.” Hoerr is still CureVac’s chairman.

The German government funding, which secured a 23% stake in the company, appeared to be partially in response.

CureVac’s IPO is also the latest embrace by Wall Street of mRNA technology, which uses the nucleic acids to instruct the body’s cells to make specific proteins. The technology’s potential has led to billions of dollars in funding from private and public investors over the past few years.

CureVac, for instance, has raised more than $1.2 billion in equity and debt financing since its formation, and will add $213.3 million more through the IPO.

Developers haven’t yet proven mRNA technology can be used effectively to treat disease, but it’s emerged as a potentially key weapon against the new coronavirus. mRNA vaccines can be quickly designed and made, helping Moderna and BioNTech leap to the forefront of the global vaccine race. Shares of each have risen to record highs as a result.

CureVac is well behind. Initial results from its first human test are expected in the fourth quarter, as are the start of two later-stage trials, among them an expected 20,000-participant Phase 3 study. One or both of Moderna and BioNTech’s vaccines have at least the chance of winning an emergency authorization by then.

CureVac also hasn’t received financial support from the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” initiative, which has put nearly $11 billion into vaccine development thus far.

Some $150 million of CureVac’s IPO proceeds are earmarked for its vaccine, which should, along with its other cash, get the candidate through Phase 3 testing, a filing said.

CureVac also has a cancer treatment and prospective rabies vaccine in clinical testing.

Alongside the IPO, investor and billionaire Dietmar Hopp, whose firm Dievini Hopp BioTech owns 54% of CureVac, agreed to buy $117 million in shares at the offering price in a separate private placement. GSK held a roughly 9% stake before the offering.