Excel Venture Unveils $125M Fund to Make Life Sciences Ideas Cross Over to IT, Energy

7/7/09Follow @xconomy

Here’s a rare bit of good news from the venture capital world. Boston-based Excel Venture Management has nailed down a $125 million fund to invest in new life sciences companies that it hopes will have broad potential to shake up a variety of industries, including information technology and alternative energy.

Excel has been operating for the past 18 months, but has been tight-lipped about its strategy because it hadn’t yet closed its fundraising. The fund is led by a group of managing directors that formerly worked together for years at CB Health Ventures—including Rick Blume, Enrico Petrillo, and Steve Gullans, as well as Juan Enriquez, the founding director of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project. I got an up-close look at what the firm is trying to accomplish from Enriquez.

The fund’s strategy is to look for ideas that have their roots in life sciences, but have broad potential as “platforms” that can be applied in other industries like IT, energy, agriculture, textiles, and chemistry, Enriquez says. This is becoming possible as biology is becoming more of a digital science, he says. The opportunities in life sciences are already starting to make an increasing impact on the financial statements of industrial giants like General Electric (a big maker of medical devices), DuPont (owner of Pioneer Hi-Bred International seeds), and even classic tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Google, which are betting big on digitizing healthcare and life sciences.

“About one-fourth of GE’s earnings come from healthcare and life sciences companies, which is getting larger, while the share of financial services is getting smaller,” Enriquez says. “At DuPont, the single largest driver of earnings is Pioneer seeds. For a lot of companies in a lot of industries, life sciences is the place they are looking for future growth.”

So that’s the lofty vision, but how is this supposed to work out financially? Plenty has been written about how the life sciences venture model is broken, partly because new drug development typically takes a decade or more, costs hundreds of millions of dollars, and has about a one-in-10 success rate in clinical trials. Excel’s answer to that? It will strictly invest in companies … Next Page »

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