TORONTO—Versant Ventures, a U.S.-based life sciences venture capital firm, is expanding operations into Canada to invest in early-stage drug discovery programs and establish new life-science companies with the aim of accelerating the commercialization of scientific research in Canada.
“We are investing in Canada to develop early-stage companies because we believe there is a strong combination of drug discovery talent as well as leading academic research across the country,” said Dr. Brad Bolzon, managing director of Versant Ventures, in announcing the move. “Our firm has a track record of investing in early-stage research as well as partnering with global pharmaceutical companies to launch novel therapeutics companies. We want to accelerate the creation of new biotech companies that can flourish here.”
Versant has already established an office and created the Inception Sciences drug discovery incubator in Vancouver to launch new companies. Inception Sciences recently joined forces with Bayer HealthCare to develop innovative therapeutics for retinal eye disease. Versant committed a $10 million Series A investment alongside research funding from Bayer to a new biotech company called Inception 4.
The management team at Versant is planning on launching a similar unit in Montreal in 2014.
Versant also recently formed a biotechnology incubator in Toronto, called Blueline Bioscience, which is collaborating with Celgene and aims to launch new companies in areas such as oncology and inflammation. Blueline Bioscience is headquartered in the MaRS Discovery District of Toronto.
Bolzon says that Versant is making a long-term commitment to Canada and sees a great opportunity to translate scientific discoveries that are emerging at academic institutes across the country into early-stage biotechnology enterprises. “We specialize in commercializing novel discoveries and believe that working with local, dynamic research teams here in Canada can take them to the next level,” said Bolzon in an official statement. “They can leverage our firm’s expertise and, as these companies grow, we can help connect them with large pharma companies that share the same goal of getting novel therapeutics to market.”
Versant has more than $1.6 billion in assets under management in life sciences. Its investment model has led to a number of notable successes in the United States and the European Union, and the firm now wants to replicate that in Canada. A good example of Versant’s success includes the formation of Amira, launched in 2005 in San Diego, which was sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2011. Key members of the Amira team then went on to found Inception Sciences. Since 2005, these initiatives in San Diego have generated six pharmaceutical companies and almost 100 jobs in the San Diego area. More than $90 million in venture capital has been committed across multiple drug discovery programs generated through Amira and Inception Sciences.
According to Dr. Jerel Davis, a principal with Versant Ventures who oversees Canadian operations for the firm, “Versant has a unique model for investing in and launching early-stage companies and we see ourselves being very active in the Canadian biotechnology sector going forward. We have established ourselves in Vancouver, have already launched a new company in that market and have created Blueline Bioscience in Toronto, which will be responsible for seeking out academic science and forming new companies. Versant also looks forward to expanding operations into Quebec and tapping into the strong talent pool that exists in that province.”
Davis notes that Versant has invested in about 120 innovative biotech and medical device companies. He believes the company’s investment model is highly unusual, focusing on what he describes as “very early-stage, mostly Series A investment. Also,” he notes, “we go beyond Boston and San Francisco to untapped geographies. Then we collaborate with pharmas on ‘build to buy’.”