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It has been a turbulent few months for biotech startups trying to list their shares on the public markets. First, a profligate 2018 turned sour for initial public offerings, with the average debutant down more than 20 percent by year’s end. Then, the record-setting federal shutdown forced a dozen or so would-be success stories to sit on their hands as market regulators stayed at home and unpaid.

Now, with the government back open, biotech has its Punxsutawney Phil in the form of Alector, a 6-year-old company hoping to convince the world that its novel approach to Alzheimer’s disease is worth a $1.4 billion valuation. And, with five other biotech firms angling to go public this month, Alector’s offering — expected to price this week — has become a closely watched barometer of what 2019 might have in store for the drug development industry.


The company, headquartered in South San Francisco, invites a familiar bull-bear debate. On the one hand, it’s focused on Alzheimer’s, which has become the drug industry’s white whale thanks to a 100 percent failure rate for new therapies over the past decade-plus. But on the other, Alector is taking a different approach to the memory-destroying disease, building on science’s rapidly evolving understanding of the human immune system in hopes of prevailing where so many others have fallen aside.

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