Startups run dry: the numbers speak

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I wrote here about a potential entrepreneurial freeze in the biotech and pharmaceutical world, and it appears to be underway. Take a look at the figures for IPOs in the area (and thanks to the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog for pointing these out). Last year was the worst year for taking a biotech company public since at least 1996 (there was one IPO) and it's hard to imagine that 2009 will be much better.


And existing companies are running low on funds as well. According to Burrill & Co., there are about 360 publicly traded biotech firms, and at the end of 2008, 120 of them had less than six months of cash left at current burn rates. Again, it's hard to see how those figures are going to look any better as the year goes on. It's just not an environment in which many investors feel like reaching into their pockets to help out startups. The benificiaries of all this will be the companies that auction off used lab equipment - that is, if anyone's in the mood to buy it.

So here we have the flip side of the 1999-2000 period, when all sorts of inadequate business plans found themselves floating upwards on bubbling geysers of cash. I have to say, neither excess is very appealing. There were a lot of idiotic valuations back then, but I'd rather see some money being wasted in the tech sector than seeing nothing spent at all. There's going to be a deep notch cut into the ranks of new companies by the current crisis, and we're going to be seeing it for years to come. 

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Derek Lowe

Derek Lowe is a drug discovery chemist with 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, which is still very much his day job. He's worked on projects targeted at Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases, and other areas, but like most discovery scientists in the business, he has yet to produce a marketed drug. Explaining how and why this happens is what led to the launch of his blog, "In the Pipeline", in 2002, and the explaining continues. . .
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