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Westlake Bio Unveils $320M Fund to Put Los Angeles on the Biotech Map

Xconomy National — 

Los Angeles has long been in San Francisco’s shadow when it comes to life sciences investment. But a new venture capital firm led by industry veterans is trying to cast the City of Angels in a new light.

Westlake Village BioPartners is launching today with $320 million in committed capital. The Los Angeles-based firm is led by managing directors Beth Seidenberg, a former general partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, and Sean Harper, the outgoing executive vice president of research and development at Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN). Harper will start with Westlake in January after retiring from Amgen. Scott Ryles, chief operating officer of Kleiner Perkins, is joining Westlake as its COO.

Seidenberg shares Amgen ties with Harper. Before joining Menlo Park, CA-based Kleiner Perkins in 2005, she was Amgen’s chief medical officer. Kleiner Perkins invests in both technology and life sciences, and although there is growing overlap between the two fields, Seidenberg says she’ll have more opportunities at Westlake.

“At Kleiner Perkins, the amount of capital I would have to focus on life sciences was less than what I thought a dedicated life sciences fund would be able to have,” she says.

Westlake will invest primarily in pharmaceutical and biotech companies, but the firm will be open to other technologies with medical applications, says Seidenberg. Most investments will be in early-stage startups. Seidenberg adds that Westlake will incubate some technologies with seed money before committing to a full Series A round of financing. Westlake has already started talking with entrepreneurs, though Seidenberg declined to discuss additional details such as the therapeutic areas of potential investments.

The Los Angeles area attracts a fair amount of venture capital—it was the nation’s fifth largest market from 2006 to 2016, according to Pitchbook—but most of the investment is in is in high tech.

Harper says Westlake can play a role in boosting the L.A. life sciences sector. UCLA and CalTech are already churning out biotech innovations, and large pharmaceutical companies such as Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen and Allergan (NYSE: AGN), which has a large presence in Irvine, CA, have helped broaden the pool of life science workers throughout the region.

“The thing that’s really been missing in terms of sparking a really vibrant ecosystem like you see in Boston and San Francisco is having a dedicated life sciences venture group that knows what it’s doing from a scientific and technical perspective,” Harper says.

Harper has lived in Southern California for 16 years. For Seidenberg, Westlake represents a homecoming, though she points out that she never really left. For the past 13 years, she’s been commuting to the Bay Area from her L.A. home. She says that many of the L.A.-area biotech entrepreneurs are like her: industry veterans who are returning to Southern California from other parts of the country to try something new.

“This is the golden age of biotech,” Seidenberg says. “The opportunities for biotech investing, having been in this industry for nearly 30 years, are better than I’ve ever seen.”

Photo by Westlake Village BioPartners