On November 27, 2007, Vancouver-based QLT Inc. announced that it has formed a special committee of directors to "review the company's strategic alternatives", which typically means that a company has put itself up for sale.
QLT's lead products are the eye drug Visudyne® and Eligard®, a prostate cancer therapy. QLT went public in 1986 and for a considerable period of time was a high flyer, regarded as one of the top life sciences growth stories in Canada. Its stock traded as high as $45.00 in 2000 before beginning a downward spiral. QLT's shares have fallen more than 50% in the past year alone to a recent low of $3.46 as its financial results have weakened and its products and technologies have failed to meet the expectations of the investment community.
QLT's struggles as a public company over the past few years have been consistent with the performance generally of many publicly traded biotech companies. Most recently, two other Canadian public life science companies, Axcan Pharma Inc. and Aspreva Pharmaceuticals Corporation have announced that they are being sold, Axcan to a US private equity fund and Aspreva to a Swiss-based diversified healthcare market group. In both cases, the purchase price for the companies represented a significant premium over the trading price of their shares on the public markets.
In Canada, public biotech companies have not fared well in 2007. The market capitalization of public Canadian life sciences companies is down by 30% in the first nine months of the year. However, in the US, notwithstanding a slump during the summer months, biotech stocks have performed rather well. At October 31st, 2007 the Burrill Biotech Select Index was up 17.5% for the year, led by companies such as Gilead Sciences and Illumina. The shares of prior year top performers, such as Amgen and Genentech, are down this year, suggesting that the maturing of public US biotech companies is attracting significant investor interest. Stephen Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Company, believes that biotech stocks will continue to improve led by new emerging and elite companies within the sector.
Another sign of improving fortunes for public biotech companies in the US is that at the end of October there had been 26 biotech initial public offerings in the US. While the IPO price for the shares of many of these companies was below the proposed range targeted, most of these new public companies have held their values quite well following their IPO's unlike the experience of many new public biotech companies in recent years.
Canadian public biotech companies have not faired as well as US companies in 2007. It will be interesting to see if the US trend toward rising prices for biotech shares extends to Canadian companies in 2008 or whether the recent pattern of sales of Canadian public biotech companies will continue.
For more information, please see: http://www.nationalpost.com/Story.html?id=130601