The leading UK institution University College London and the firm AlbionVC have made the first closing of a €112M (£100M) fund with the aim of investing in UCL research and spinouts with a focus on gene and cell therapy.
This is the second so-called UCL Technology Fund and could double the size of the first, which raised around €56M (£50M) in 2016. The fund is managed by AlbionVC in collaboration with UCL’s commercialization company UCL Business (UCLB). Investors in the second fund include the firm British Patient Capital and UCL itself.
While the value of the first closing was not disclosed, Anne Lane, CEO of UCLB, told me that investments from this fund have already begun, and the second close is expected within the next 12 months. The larger size of the fund than the first could also give the team more flexibility on how many investments it makes and how big they are.
“We have a focus in terms of UCL’s cell & gene therapy research and that is reflected in the portfolio of the fund, but no specific disease areas as such,” Lane said.
Examples of investments in the pipeline for this fund include a gene therapy for an undisclosed neurometabolic disorder, a gene therapy for epilepsy, and a cell therapy for glaucoma.
One of the biggest success stories from the first fund is the gene therapy company Orchard Therapeutics, whose Nasdaq IPO raised around €290M in 2018. Another UCL gene therapy spinout, Freeline Therapeutics, is also geared to launch a Nasdaq IPO in the coming weeks.
UCL has a strong entrepreneurial scene comparable to the biotech hubs in Oxford and Cambridge. For example, UCL spinouts reportedly raised €644M (£579M) in external investment between 2018 and 2019, the largest amount of any university in the country.
The European startup scene has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic this year, with the eurozone economy going into a deep recession. Furthermore, gene therapy developers have experienced disruption with their programs due to clinical trial delays and changes in strategy.
Regarding the effect of Covid-19 on their fundraising, Lane said that the pandemic “definitely made it more challenging and took more time than expected. But UCL’s research continues and we look to its research base in overcoming the challenges posed by the global pandemic”.
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