Cowen's Solomon sees gains in biotech, helped by easier access to cash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. regulations enacted after the financial crisis helped biotechnology companies raise the funds they needed to fight COVID-19 and will pave the way for further growth in the sector next year, the chief executive officer of investment bank Cowen Inc. said.

Cowen Inc. Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Jeffrey Solomon. Courtesy Cowen/via REUTERS

Dozens of biotechs including two leading the race for a coronavirus vaccine, are flourishing because the Jump-start Our Business Start-ups or JOBS Act has made it easier for small companies to raise financing.

Over the last 10 years, 415 biotechnology companies have listed their shares publicly, raising $200 billion through IPOs and follow-on fund raising, Cowen data show. Their continuing research allowed the companies to get 420 drugs approved during that time, the data show.

BioNtech, which listed its stock last year, and Moderna Therapeutics, which went public in 2018, have both asked U.S. and European regulators to approve their COVID-19 vaccines.

“Individuals and small businesses now have a smoother pathway to the capital markets thanks to more inclusionary rules and that has had a huge impact on many sectors but most prominently the biotech sector,” Jeffrey Solomon, Cowen’s CEO and chairman said at the Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit. “Are we going to see more growth in the biotech sector next year? Yes.”

Cowen has helped a number of companies raise funds for researching therapeutics and creating tools and diagnostics.

Solomon said the companies Cowen has worked with have researchers working on therapies for cancer, aging, heart disease and mental health among others while also applying big data analytics and cloud computing.

Biotech investing has been lucrative for institutional investors and retail investors alike with health-care oriented hedge funds gaining an average 13% in the first 10 months of 2020 and retail funds like the Fidelity Select Biotechnology Portfolio gaining 31% in the first 11 months of 2020.

Solomon, who serves on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Small Business Capital Formation Advisory Committee, said easier access to capital is just one theme of a handful he called instrumental.

He said he has been urging corporate chiefs to be more diverse in boardrooms and on the factory floors and embrace more sustainable production methods.

“CEOs are getting the message that your business model is predicated on embracing the changing demographics of the country. If you don’t do this, your business will be less relevant,” he said.

On Tuesday Nasadaq made a big push for diversity by saying it will require its listed companies to include women, racial minorities and LGBTQ individuals on their boards.

The pandemic has helped executives understand that what worked for decades might have to be thrown out the window. “Why wait, it is better to get out in front of new trends and adopt the mindset of stakeholder capitalism,” Solomon said.

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Editing by David Gregorio