Versant Ventures’ Partner Cuts Back on Biotech Work to Spend Time With Family. For Real

11/28/11Follow @xconomy

You learn early in journalism that when a business leader says he or she is resigning to “spend more time with family,” it’s usually baloney. Maybe they clashed with colleagues, got a better job somewhere else, or are bailing out from a sinking ship. The shades of gray are rarely discussed publicly.

Yet Versant Ventures’ Camille Samuels says she is cutting back on her biotech investing activity so she can spend more time with her two young sons. And in this case, it’s not some lame excuse.

Here’s the background: Versant, a high-profile fund with $1.6 billion under management in healthcare companies, is downsizing. As was reported on the In Vivo Blog last week, and which I confirmed over the weekend, four of Versant’s 10 managing directors will no longer be active investors when the firm raises its next fund. Brian Atwood, Kevin Wasserstein, Beckie Robertson, and Samuels will all continue to manage their existing portfolio investments with Versant, and keep their existing board seats, but they will not be actively involved with making new investments in Versant’s fifth fund, says managing director Ross Jaffe. Versant isn’t looking to recruit any new partners to replace them, he says.

Jaffe is being careful to say nothing about Versant’s future fundraising plans, to avoid running afoul of SEC regulations. But he does acknowledge that the size of venture funds is dictated partly by the number of partners around the table who put the money to work in startups. Since Versant will have fewer partners in its next fund, it’s safe to say the next fund will probably be something smaller than the last $500 million pot of money it raised in July 2008.

It would be easy to conclude that Versant is becoming just another casualty of the biotech VC crisis, which I wrote about here a month ago, and which seems to get worse by the day. There is angst about extremely tough regulatory barriers, and equally tough product reimbursement challenges. Maybe even worse, biotech suffers from an all-around lack of good old-fashioned sizzle in a world that’s obsessed with the latest offerings from high-tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Camille Samuels

Samuels has invested a big part of her life for the past 11 years in Versant, wrestling with all kinds of biotech investing challenges like this. But now she’s focusing more on her two sons, about to turn 4 and 2. Her oldest boy, Luke, was diagnosed last June with something I’d never heard of before—Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. “It basically means high functioning autism,” Samuels says.

Samuels and her husband quickly started doing what many parents do in this kind of situation. They researched the best services and tracked down a variety of therapists to help. The family nanny was assigned to take the boy to services. They focused on the bright side—the “high-functioning”—part of the diagnosis.

Then, in September, her husband checked up on how things were going in preschool, and … Next Page »

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