Accelerator adds venture partners

Funding boosts capital pool by $11.8 million and adds informatics expertise

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SEATTLE—Accelerator Corp., a biotechnology investment and development company, boosted its venture capital pool by $11.8 million in late 2004 with the addition of OVP Venture Partners and Amgen Ventures among its latest investors. The addition of capital from these two sources, explains Carl Weissman, president and chief executive officer at Accelerator, represents a move beyond the previous "mainline biotech investors" into "new competencies."
OVP Venture Partners, based in Kirkland, Wash., has a "great presence in the Northwest," as well as expertise in the converging areas of IT and biotechnology, says Weissman.
Chad Waite, general partner at OVP, agrees that the convergence of IT into the medical research field "is leading to an incredible explosion of computer data around biology." He says the fact that some of Accelerator's future business will be in the area of bioinformatics heightened OVP's interest in it as an investment.
Waite, who takes a post on Accelerator's board, has a history of involvement with biotech companies, including Rosetta Inpharmatics, which was sold to Merck & Co. in 2001, and NanoString Technologies, a drug discovery instrumentation and software company that was spun out of the Institute of Systems Biology, another Accelerator investor.
Several trend lines, including the human genome project, ever-increasing computation power and advancements in gene array analysis, have all contributed to the new climate for start-ups and investments, says Waite.
As far as Accelerator's other partners, including Amgen and ISB, Waite said "it didn't hurt" that the line up was as strong as it is. Accelerator's $21.8 million investment pool, of which $15.35 million remains available, also comes from ARCH Venture Partners, MPM Capital, Versant Ventures and Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc.
Weissman says Accelerator is "honored to be the first investor for Amgen Ventures. It's hard to imagine a better partner." Working with Amgen, he says, will allow Accelerator-funded companies to tap into them for expertise and access to emerging technologies.
Christine Cassiano, senior manager, corporate communications for Amgen Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif., calls Accelerator "a good example of an investment that meets (Amgen Ventures') goal" of targeting early-stage life sciences companies. Amgen Ventures was launched in November 2004.
"Accelerator provides the management, infrastructure and facilities for start-up ventures that are focusing on powerful, emerging biotechnology ideas and technologies," she says.
Weissman notes that with its new influx of funding, Accelerator can continue to look for additional deals, as many as two per year.
Current Accelerator companies are VieVax Corp., which is working on vaccine development and VLST Corp., which is creating drugs to combat autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. A third Accelerator company is expected to be announced in early January.
One of the basic tenets in looking for companies to invest in is their ability to benefit from Accelerator's relationship with ISB, a non-profit organization founded by former University of Washington professor Leroy Hood, who is recognized for his work in molecular biotechnology and genomics.
And though its first investments have been in companies in its own backyard, Weissman says Accelerator isn't limited to local investment and will consider proposals companies around the world. Currently, it is reviewing proposals from Asia, Western Europe and Canada.

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