The Rise of PIPEs in the Biotech World

0 min read

For biotech companies operating in the small and micro-cap arena, access to capital can often be the difference between make or break. Developing cutting-edge therapies is an expensive endeavor, with clinical trials alone costing millions. When equity markets turn volatile, these small players can find themselves in a funding crunch that stalls or derails their most promising innovations.

This dilemma has led to a surge in an alternative financing technique known as the PIPE – a private investment in public equity. PIPEs allow select investors to directly purchase shares or convertible securities from a public biotech company at a discounted price in a private placement. In exchange, these investors gain access to highly coveted non-public information like interim clinical trial data or study results before they hit the mainstream.

The allure is obvious – getting an early peek under the hood allows “PIPE investors” to make educated bets on a company’s prospects ahead of any market-moving news releases. If the confidential data looks promising, they can stock up on discounted shares before the positive study results send the share price shooting upwards.

For the issuing biotech, a PIPE deal solves a dire cash crunch while attracting buy-in from reputable healthcare funds who often have existing holdings. It’s a win-win that has fueled a PIPE boom, with U.S. biotechs raising a record $5.7 billion through these private placements in Q1 2024 alone according to Jefferies data.

However, this lucrative trend is also igniting a raging controversy. The investing community is deeply divided between those with a rarefied seat at the PIPE table, and those feeling deprived of a chance at the same insight and opportunities.

On one side are specialist healthcare funds like Adage Capital, Logos Capital, and EcoR1 which have made PIPEs their bread-and-butter. They argue the confidential data access merely levels the playing field, as professional biotech investors already do rigorous public-sourced analyses that give them an edge over casual investors.

“You have companies spending years running clinical trials, taking huge risks to develop these drugs for patients. PIPEs give them a fighting chance to meet funding needs when equity markets turn hostile,” says Oleg Nodelman of EcoR1. “It’s better than watching all that work disintegrate.”

Opposing them are generalist investors and even some biotech CEOs who decry PIPEs as sanctioned insider trading that unfairly favors an elite group. Sounding the loudest alarms are those burned by buying into hyped PIPEs only to see outsized stock gains instantly materialize for PIPE investors.

“There are instances where stocks rallied over 40% the day positive PIPE data was announced,” notes Daphne Zohar, CEO of Seaport Therapeutics, who avoids PIPEs. “These lopsided deals make generalist investors feel the deck is stacked against them.”

The controversy deepened when an investor sued Taysha Gene Therapies in April, alleging company leaders strategically timed disclosures alongside a $150 million PIPE to maximize profits for an inner circle before share prices spiked.

As PIPEs proliferate from niche deals into a $5 billion-plus financing pipeline, stakes are rising for all sides. Furious retail investors have even conjectured PIPEs could enable “shadow trading” – using confidential data about one company’s study to invest in an unrelated competitor ahead of public releases.

While merely allegations now, any concrete evidence of foul play could precipitate a harsh regulatory crackdown to ensure fair markets. Already some PIPEs have seen muted stock bounces as news travels faster about these non-public data disclosures.

For now, cash-strapped biotechs seem willing to accept the criticism as a worthwhile price to pay for crucial growth capital. PIPE defenders argue if disclosure rules are followed, there’s no meaningful distinction between benefiting from non-public information as an investor versus as a biotech executive or regulator with early trial data access.

Only time will tell if the alluring but contentious PIPE well runs dry from overuse and regulatory scrutiny. But in today’s turbulent climate, it offers a vital lifeline to biotech innovators facing turbulent public capital currents. Just be prepared to defend your stake in this high-stakes game of data-driven musical chairs.

Take a moment to take a look at some emerging growth biotech companies, by looking at Noble Capital Markets’ Senior Research Analyst Robert LeBoyer’s coverage list.

Inbox Intel from Channelchek.

Informed investors make more money. And it’s all about timing. Get it when it happens.

By clicking submit you are agreeing to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy