A tough environment for biotech investing

Posted: June 26, 2012

The biotechnology industry's annual convention attracted more than 16,000 industry professionals to Boston last week.

Unlike, say, the Consumer Electronics Show, no one emerged from BIO 2012 babbling about crowdsourcing for drug development or the must-have bioreactor of the season. But there was much discussion about and hand-wringing over the health and growth of the industry.

For the Philadelphia region, the life-sciences sector remains one of the few that produces capital-hungry start-ups with the potential to hit home runs both for investors and patients. Since the recession, it's been difficult for health-care-oriented investors to raise new pools of capital and even harder for those start-ups to convince those with money to risk it on unproven technologies.

Take BioAdvance, one of Pennsylvania's life-sciences "greenhouses," which made $2.4?million stretch a long way over the last year.

Nearing its 10-year anniversary and born of part of Pennsylvania's share of the nationwide tobacco litigation settlement, BioAdvance continued to do missionary work in a sector that has fallen out of favor with many investors.

During the 12-month period that will end June 30, the nonprofit economic development group made new investments in seven start-ups and follow-on investments in seven others. It also provided financial and other support for two technologies emerging from academia.

Among its new investments was $500,000 for RMH Sciences, a Philadelphia firm developing new antibacterials based on the work of the University of Pennsylvania's Harvey M. Rubin.

Also, Merganser Biotech, a Newtown Square virtual company that is developing a treatment, based on UCLA technology, for iron overload in certain diseases, received $50,000 in pre-seed funding as well as a commitment for $450,000 in seed funding.

Here are the other new investments, which received pre-seed funding: • Ossianix, a Philadelphia firm developing new biologics based on shark antibodies: $65,000. • Cool-Bio, a Wayne start-up that is developing a technology for use during cardiac bypass surgery: $50,400. • Anakim Biologics, a Chester County firm trying to improve biologics manufacturing: $50,000. • Enzium, with connections to Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties and working on biosensor methods to test proteases and other enzymes: $50,000. • Imiplex L.L.C., a Bristol firm that's been around since 2004 and currently working on a system for building nanostructures: $50,000.

Barbara S. Schilberg, managing director and CEO of BioAdvance, said last year was the first time BioAdvance did not experience an "exit" — either by acquisition or initial public offering — from one of the companies in its portfolio.

One portfolio company, Ceptaris Therapeutics Inc., raised $10 million in a venture fund-raising in June. As part of that round, BioAdvance made a follow-on investment of $135,000 in the Malvern firm, which is seeking FDA approval for a cancer treatment.

Other companies receiving follow-on financing from BioAdvance were: Optofluidics ($480,000), Niiki Pharma ($210,000), Novira Therapeutics ($150,000), Immunome ($100,000), Galleon Pharmaceuticals ($96,614), and Solaris Therapeutics ($66,800).

Schilberg acknowledged the "horrendous" environment for those trying to raise life-sciences funds, but said she viewed it as an opportunity for companies and investors to do more creative things. "When things aren't going well, we have to reinvent the way we do business," she said.

"I think that's healthy," she said. "Painful, but healthy."

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.

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