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Cambridge biotech raises $101m in IPO

Shares of the Cambridge life sciences company bluebird bio Inc. soared almost 60 percent on their first day of trading Wednesday, an impressive debut for a business that endured years of stagnation and another encouraging sign for the biotechnology industry.

The local gene therapy company raised $101 million in an initial public offering priced at $17 per share, higher than the $14 to $16 estimated by investment bankers. Bluebird shares closed at $26.91 per share on Wednesday.

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The IPO came after a long wait and a name change. The company was founded 21 years ago under the name Genetix Pharmaceuticals Inc. with a focus on treating rare diseases.

Genetix toiled for 17 years before a 2010 study showed that its therapy had slowed the progression of a genetic brain disorder called childhood cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy, or CCALD, in two patients.

That year, Boston venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures and Genzyme Corp. of Cambridge led an investment team that poured $35 million into the company, changed its name to bluebird bio, and installed Third Rock partner Nick Leschly as chief executive.

The renamed business is the fourth Massachusetts biotech company to go public in what could be the industry’s best year for IPOs since 2007. The Globe reported last month that more than two dozen life sciences companies, including nine in the Bay State, are expected to make public offerings this year as the market recovers.

Less than three weeks ago, another Cambridge biotech company called Epizyme raised $77.1 million. Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals and Enanta Pharmaceuticals, both of Watertown, launched IPOs in March.

The trading debut of bluebird bio came on a day when Boston-area biotechnology was among the leading topics at the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Babson College. Massachusetts has established itself over the past decade as a center of life sciences research, attracting large drug makers and fostering advances by smaller companies.

“There’s almost no other place to build a biotech company than Boston,” angel investor Jean Hammond said during a panel discussion at the conference.

Investors now appear eager to back a promising company like bluebird, which remains far from taking a gene therapy to market. Later this year, bluebird will begin a clinical trial, administering its latest version of the CCALD therapy to as many as 15 patients.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers
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