Private U.S. drug companies garnered $1.9 billion in venture capital funding during the first three months of 2015, more than twice the sector's haul in the same period a year ago. The first quarter of 2015 also saw 18 more deals than in the first quarter of last year. This year's sharp rise in pharmaceutical and biotech transactions suggests that the growth may continue throughout 2015.

Venture firms are raising funds again, "and they're already putting that money to work," Laura Vitez, principal business analyst for Thomson Reuters Recap, told BioWorld.

From January to March of 2014, private pharmaceutical and biotech companies raised only $814 million, according to BioWorld, a service of Thomson Reuters, which has tracked funding to pharmaceutical companies over the past two years.  Still, last year turned out to be the busiest and most lucrative of the past decade. Deals made within the industry--including mergers and acquisitions, licensing agreements and asset purchases--added up to $382.7 billion in 2014, as BioWorld reports.  

Moderna Therapeutics is a big driver of this year's fundraising boost. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company raised $450 million from a host of high-profile partners including Alexion Pharmaceuticals and AstraZeneca in the largest private fundraising round for any biotechnology company on record, as Forbes reports. The company is developing a novel approach to medicine that leverages messenger RNA to treat cardiovascular, metabolic and rare diseases.

BioWorld notes that investors also seem more willing to back pharma and biotech companies at earlier stages in their development. Venture capitalist funding for the first two stages of startup fundraising, known as series A and series B funding, was more than twice that of the same period last year.

The analysis also provides some useful benchmarks for drug companies searching for venture capital funds. Of the companies that BioWorld studied, the average amount earned in a series A fundraising round was $21 million and the average series B deal garnered $36 million. The majority of companies that were funded – 62 percent – already had drugs enrolled in clinical trials.

Though investors are sinking an increasing amount of money into more deals, the number of private pharmaceutical and biotech companies that went public fell in the first quarter as compared with 2014. By this time last year, 28 companies had made their stock market debuts while only nine did so in the first quarter of 2015. BioWorld notes that more companies have chosen to launch on a foreign exchange, which may account for part of the drop – six pharmaceutical firms took this route in 2015 versus only one last year.

However, those IPOs that did launch were more lucrative than last year’s debuts, earning $99 million on average versus $69 million during the same period in 2014.