Biotech Business Model “Unsustainable” in Financial Crisis, E&Y Says

5/5/09Follow @xconomy

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with 40 public companies, according to the report, although that’s down 9 percent from a year ago. San Diego’s biotech companies were worth a combined $17.4 billion—about one-third the value of those in New England—on the last day of 2008.

The overall picture isn’t holding up as well in San Diego. Revenues climbed 24 percent to $3.97 billion, although R&D spending fell 13 percent to $1.72 billion. Balance sheets in San Diego are shrinking, not growing. The region’s companies had $2.2 billion squirreled away entering 2009, a 19 percent drop from the cash and investments reported a year earlier. (For a closer look, check out our company-by-company breakdown of how well cash is holding up at San Diego biotech companies.)

—Pacific Northwest. This life sciences cluster, where yours truly calls home, has some things going for it with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation financing global health research and some strong basic research institutions, but it also had some pretty dismal biotech industry numbers to report to Ernst & Young. The Pacific Northwest ranks No. 9 in the U.S. in number of public biotech companies with 15, which puts it in a tie with Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley.

The Pacific Northwest’s biotech companies had a relatively puny market valuation of $1.5 billion—nowhere near hailing distance of Boston or San Diego—and that figure represented a 45 percent drop from a year earlier. Spending on R&D was about $481 million combined, a 19 percent drop from a year earlier.

And even while they’re cutting back, Northwest companies haven’t been able to build up much of a financial cushion to ride out the recession. Only about $241 million combined showed up on the balance sheets of Northwest companies, a 28 percent drop from a year earlier. (Check out our company-by-company cash analysis here.)

This forced me to do a double-take about the $241 million. It’s not a misprint. It means New England biotech companies have about 25 times as much cash on hand, and San Diego companies have 10 times as much as the companies here in the Northwest. Something to consider next time an elected official tells the public about how competitive the local cluster is with the big boys around the country.

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