Hospital-Backed Partners VC Fund Finds Deals Close to Home—Here’s the Early List

12/2/08

It occurred to me that Partners Innovation Fund, unlike all other venture investors I can think of, knows exactly where it will find its future deals. That’s because the fund, launched by Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals last year, invests exclusively in startups with science from the two Harvard-affiliated hospitals. And given that the combined annual research budgets of MGH and Brigham exceed $900 million, it’s an opportunity-rich pool in which to fish for deals.

Partners Innovation Fund, which is managed by Partners HealthCare, the private health care system based in Boston, focuses on seed investments in startups primarily in their infancy and aims to attract investments from traditional venture capitalists to the companies as well (Read on for more specifics of the fund’s investment goals). In light of the current capital constraints on the biotech industry, which Luke captured in this post last week, the Partners fund plays an increasingly important role in capitalizing startups in their earliest stages, as many VCs now seem to be steering away from such deals in order to invest in later-stage firms.

“I think it really does make a difference for Partners and the hospital to have some skin in the game early on,” says Chris Colecchi, vice president of research ventures and licensing at Partners, which manages Brigham and MGH. “I think it’s a clear message to our own community [of researchers] that we are supporting entrepreneurial and scientific endeavors—and it’s a clear sign to others that we are willing to make an additional investment other than patent costs.”

To be clear, venture capitalists and drug companies have swooned over discoveries made at MGH and Brigham for decades. Most famously, MGH biologist Brian Seed’s discoveries related to fusion proteins led to the development of blockbuster arthritis drug etanercept (Enbrel). In fact, MGH says it reeled in $284 million last year through the sale of rights to all future ex-U.S. royalties on etanercept sales.

It’d be a tall order to expect one of the startups in the Partners fund’s portfolio to match the success of etanercept, and it’s way too early to tell which among them will be successes. However, I thought it would be worth giving brief overviews of those endeavors.

Here’s a list of the companies in the fund’s portfolio (or at least those startups it would reveal):

BioBehavioral Diagnostics (BioBDx) — Cambridge, MA

This diagnostics startup may have an answer to frivolous methylphenidate (Ritalin) prescriptions. Based on research by psychiatrist Martin Teicher at MGH-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, BioBDx offers its proprietary Quotient ADHD system to provide objective diagnoses of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. The test uses infrared motion analyzers that measure the movements of patients while they perform certain tasks. In early 2007, the company raised $8.5 million in a Series A round of financing led by venture firms Sevin Rosen Funds and Tullis-Dickerson, and its ADHD test was launched on the market this year.

Freedom-2 — Cherry Hill, NJ

Are you tired of that tattoo you got during spring break in ’88 (or ’68)? With technology co-invented by dermatologist R. Rox Anderson at MGH, Freedom-2 is developing permanent tattoo ink intended to be more removable than traditional inks. The ink consists of polymer beads that encapsulate biodegradable dyes and pigments, and the ink beads are designed to dissolve when treated with lasers. Freedom-2, founded in 1999, has also drawn investments from Jamestown Investments and Brightleaf Capital.

Provasculon — Cambridge, MA

Provasculon was founded to commercialize discoveries made by cardiologist Richard Lee and researcher Vincent Segers, both at Brigham. The startup is developing novel proteins that recruit stem cells to damaged tissues for regeneration and vascular repair. Partners says it has invested $500,000 in the firm, which now operates in Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Biogen Idec’s (NASDAQ:BIIB) incubator in Kendall Square. (Bob wrote about the business model of the Biogen incubator, called the Biogen Idec Innovation Incubator, in this post.)

Synovex — Cambridge, MA

Synovex has operated quietly since it launched last year—with licenses to patents from Brigham based on research by physicians Michael Brenner and David Lee—to develop treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. In addition to Partners, investors in the firm include Medimmune Ventures and lead backer HealthCare Ventures, according to Xconomy’s news feed from VentureDeal.

Bob Creeden, managing director of the Partners Innovation Fund, says that the group has also steered funds into research with commercial potential, and that in addition to its obvious role as a source of seed money, the fund plans to launch several more biotech startups itself in the near future. Brigham and MGH have committed $35 million to the fund for its first 10 years, and Creeden says plans are to invest up to $2 million in each startup through multiple rounds of financing. Thus far, the fund has committed $3.3 million to its portfolio companies and actually invested $1.7 million in them. The hope is that the successful exits of its initial investments will replenish the fund.

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