Saturday, 1 July 2017

Sienna Cancer Diagnostics


Sienna Cancer Diagnostics are seeking to raise 6 million dollars, with an indicative market capitalization based on full subscription of just under 37.5 million. Shares are being offered at 20 cents each.

Sienna was originally founded in 2002. The company’s focus is the development of diagnostic tools for cancer, and more specifically using tests that look at levels of Telomarese in the body to aid in diagnosis. I spent around 10 minutes clicking on links on Wikipedia trying to understand what exactly Telomarese is, but I quickly realised it goes well beyond whatever I can remember from year 10 science. Instead, as usual I will do my best to evaluate the Sienna IPO using the tools available to an average investor.

IPO’s in the biotechnology space can be broadly broken down into two categories: Pre-revenue, where all the company has is an idea and maybe some patents, and post-revenue, where the company has a proven method of generating revenue, and is now looking to ramp things up. Sienna Cancer Diagnostics falls awkwardly somewhere in the middle. While technically Sienna has been receiving revenue from product sales since 2015, if you exclude research and development expenses, revenue for the first six months of FY2017 was $291,588. There are small cafĂ©’s that turn over more money than that. It’s an unusual time to list, as the immediate question is why Sienna didn’t hold off until the listing until they had demonstrated their growth potential.


Like many companies, Sienna’s past does not seem to be as straightforward and linear as the Prospectus would like you to believe.

In January 2015, Sienna Cancer Diagnostics announced their first sales agreements with a Major American pathology company. Kerry Hegarty, the CEO at the time gave an interview to The Age, where she explained that “ …Sienna has succeeded where other cancer diagnostic ventures have failed because it has been able to stay an unlisted company so far.” Hegarty goes on to talk about the flexibility of being an unlisted company when you are still in a pre-revenue stage.

4 months after giving this interview Hegarty left Sienna Cancer Diagnostics.  Later that same year in September, Street Talk reported the company was planning a 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners as lead manager. Did Hegarty leave because she felt that the company’s decision to list was premature? I have no idea.

For whatever reason, the 10 million-dollar IPO with Pac Partners did not eventuate, and the company is now listing 18 months later raising only 6 million with the much smaller lead manager Sequoia Corporate Finance.  A CEO leaving a company and an IPO being delayed aren’t exactly unusual occurences, but it would be interesting to get some background on why both these events happened.


As mentioned earlier, Sienna has largely relied on government rebates and Australia’s very generous research and development tax incentive program for revenue. I take the view that if the company is going to achieve long term success, it will need to eventually stop relying on government handouts and therefore these revenue streams should be excluded from any analysis.

 The worrying thing is though, once you take this money out revenue has gone backwards from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, Sienna’s first full year of receiving product revenue, the company had annual revenue of $640,664 excluding government rebates, or $320,332 every six months. The first six months of FY17 saw revenue of only $291,588, a pretty sizeable decrease at a time you would naturally expect revenue to grow.

While there may be legitimate reasons for the decline in revenue, it is not addressed anywhere in the Prospectus that I could find. The decline in revenue also puts into question Sienna’s chosen listing date. August is an interesting time to list, as it means the prospectus does not include the full FY17 numbers, even though the financial year is over by the time the offer closes. The cynic in me says that if the FY17 numbers were any good the IPO would be delayed a couple of months, as strong FY17 numbers would make the IPO a much more straightforward process.

To further illustrate the odd timing of the listing, the balance sheet as of January 2017 showed over 1.5 million dollars in cash, vs annual expenses of around $570,000. Whatever was behind the decision to list before FY17 numbers were available, it wasn’t because the company was about to run out of money.


Sienna have not put any voluntary escrow arrangements in place, so a key question for any potential investor is who the existing shareholders are, and how likely they would be to dump their shares as soon as the company lists.

Earlier articles about Sienna mention the ex-CEO of Macquarie Allan Moss as one of the main shareholders and backers. Interestingly enough, his name does not appear in the current prospectus, so either he has sold out completely, or now holds less than 5% of the company. Why a shrewd investor like Moss would sell-out before an IPO is another question a prospective investor should probably think about.

Instead, the current largest shareholder is now someone called David Neate, who owns just over 10% of the company. I was immediately curious about who this person was, as I could not find him listed on the board or the senior management team of the company. After digging around online, the only information I could find on him was in regards to Essential Petroleum Resources Limited, a now delisted oil and gas exploration company that someone called David Neate (and I’m aware it might not be the same guy) held 12.6% of in October 2007. 

There is an October 2008 Hot Copper thread where someone wondered why Neate was unloading so many shares in Petroleum Resources Limited. A few months after the post in January 2009, shares fell to below 1 cent following unfavourable drilling announcements  and the company delisted later that year.

Of course, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for a major investor deciding to offload shares, but it’s not really the sort of information you want to find when you start googling the major shareholder of a potential investment.


As this is an IPO in an area where I have no technical knowledge, I am acutely aware that I could be completely off the mark with my analysis. If using Telomarese to diagnose cancer proves to be the next big breakthrough, this could easily be the IPO of the year. However, if I’m going to invest in a company that’s actual product revenue is less than one fiftieth of the indicative market capitalisation, I would at least want to see revenue growth, not revenue going backwards. Furthermore, the small amount being raised does make me wonder if the IPO is more about existing shareholders unloading stock than actually raising capital. Contributed equity is listed on the balance sheet as only 16.6 million, which means at least some initial investors would still be making significant profits if they unload their shares well below the initial listing price.

While I may well live to regret it, this is one IPO I will not be taking part in.

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