By Ben Hirschler
(Reuters) - A small Dutch company behind the Western world's first approved gene therapy priced its shares above the expected range in a U.S. stock offering on Wednesday, showing the current investor appetite for biotechnology.
Amsterdam-based uniQure said it would sell 5.4 million shares at an initial public offering price of $17.00 each, netting it $81.9 million after expenses. It had previously indicated a price range of $13.00 to $15.00.
The stock was trading just below the issue price at $16.80 by 1600 GMT.
UniQure won approval in November 2012 to sell its drug Glybera in Europe and intends to start selling it as a treatment for the ultra-rare disease lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD) with partner Chiesi in the first half of 2014.
The drug is likely to break new ground as the world's most expensive medicine, with a potential price tag of more than $1 million. A high price is needed because a single dose could last a lifetime, giving uniQure just one shot at recouping its investment.
Chief Executive Jorn Aldag said in 2012 that Glybera could sell for around 250,000 euros a year for five years, implying a total price of 1.25 million euros ($1.6 million).
The company has since said that no decision has been taken on price and its IPO prospectus also said it now believed that a one-time price, rather than an annuity-based system, was the most likely pricing model.
Glybera is a modified virus that delivers the correct version of a gene into people afflicted with LPLD, a hereditary disorder that raises the risk of potentially lethal inflammation of the pancreas.
Rare or so-called orphan diseases are winning increased attention from drug developers and several products from companies including Sanofi, Shire and Alexion already cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
UniQure is not the first gene therapy firm to float on Nasdaq. Bluebird Bio made its debut last June but the Cambridge, Mass.-based company has yet to win a regulatory green light for its products.
The decision by uniQure to float in the United States follows a trend by a number of European biotech businesses to tap into a deeper and more experienced capital pool on the other side of the Atlantic.
The results for the Europeans have been mixed.
Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals, which is developing cannabis-based medicines for pain, spasticity and other conditions, has seen its shares soar since listing depository receipts on Nasdaq but another Dutch firm, Prosensa, has flopped after a setback with its drug for muscular dystrophy.
Jefferies and Leerink acted as joint book-running managers for the uniQure offering, with Piper Jaffray as lead manager.
($1 = 0.7402 euros)
(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)