EU biotech delivers

C&I Issue 10, 2017

European biotech companies are significantly outperforming their US peers to deliver greater investment returns, according to a new report that claims ‘to provide a guide to how to build the most effective biotech boards’.

Credit: Sputnik/Science Photo Library

Unsurprisingly, US-based companies fare significantly better on comparisons of average market capitalisation: $3.1bn, compared with $727m, says the report by the RSA Group. But more European companies are in the lead for ‘value creation’. The report calculates the total trailing return (TTR) – the return of a company over a given period – for the EU of 56%, and for the US of 42% averaged over three years.

The top three companies by TTR are Santhera (155%), Tiziana Life Sciences (123%) and Exelixis (63%). Swiss company Santhera focuses on treatments for currently untreatable neuromuscular and neuro-ophthalmological diseases; London-based Tiziana Life Sciences specialises in oncology, inflammatory and immune diseases; and Exelixis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concentrates on difficult-to-treat cancers.

To understand the relationship between investment performance and company leadership, the report analyses the performance of biotech boards, CEOs and chairs. It compares publicly traded biotech companies on European exchanges with companies on NASDAQ (SMEs only), and identifies the top 20 boards. Of these companies, 11 are based in the US and nine in Europe.

The RSA Group has identified six factors vital to board success: share ownership, over-commitment, succession planning, diversified composition, gender diversity and remuneration. ‘Better leadership planning can help ensure the best return on technology and capital,’ explains RSA executive chairman Nick Stephens.

The report finds that companies where directors own stock outperform their peers. For the top 20 companies in the EU and the US, board members held a combined average stake worth $19.7m. Large shareholdings are more common in the US where long-term compensation has a more significant weight in the total compensation structure. ‘We believe that the UK biotech industry would substantially benefit from a change in the Corporate Code to allow share-based remuneration for independent non-executive directors, especially for early-phase organisations,’ the report states.

Significantly, the report found that US and European boards differ in composition. US boards have an average of eight directors, ranging from five to 11; European companies have six, ranging from four to eight. In terms of gender diversity, the report finds that the top 20 boards have, on average, 16% female directors, and this is higher in Europe (18%) than in the US (11%). Finally, remuneration can have a significant impact on the success of a company. The report finds that better compensated boards produce companies that build more value for their shareholders.

The CEOs of the top 20 companies have a number of traits in common: 60% of them hold PhDs and/or medical degrees, and 40% are scientist-turned-entrepreneur. The scientists of the group are prolific in terms of patents, patent applications and peer-reviewed publications. A fifth of CEOs come from a financial background, and the rest come with experience of the pharma sector. Two of the 20 companies have female CEOs, which is slightly higher than the 8% industry average.

The directors of the report’s top 20 companies serve on three boards on average. One third of directors hold just one board position, ‘which allows them to focus both on their commitments and on developing skills to address new business challenges.’ These companies also refresh their boards to a ‘healthy degree’, allowing them to adjust to new market conditions and strategy changes.

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