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West Coast Biotech Roundup: Versant, BayBio/CHI Merger, von Emster

Xconomy San Francisco — 

A programming note: The American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, which took place Friday through Tuesday in San Francisco, took up much of the week’s biopharma news. We’ve decided to post a separate roundup of our own reports and news we couldn’t cover.

Overshadowed by ASH, there was nonetheless other news on the West Coast.

Versant Ventures, headquartered in San Francisco, announced Wednesday the official close of its fifth fund at $305 million. Xconomy wrote about the fund in July and discussed how Versant has survived the venture shakeout to raise a new fund, unlike many of its peers. It has done so with major strategic shifts, revamping its roster of partners, and expanding from Vancouver, BC, where eastward into Canada’s other major cities. (Much of the new fund is bankrolled by Canadian limited partners.) Promotions for the new fund: Tom Woiwode is now managing director, and Guido Magni, Gianni Gromo, and Jerel Davis are now partners.

Versant also announced Wednesday that its new Blueline Bioscience incubator in Toronto has spun out its first company, Northern Biologics, also based in Toronto. Northern’s $10 million Series A is provided entirely by Versant. Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), of Summit, NJ, is Versant’s partner in Blueline, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether Celgene gains rights to Northern. The startup is working on a new therapeutic antibody platform and aims to develop programs to treat cancer and autoimmune disease.

Versant’s Canadian hub is Vancouver, where new partner Davis and one part of its Inception Sciences business reside. Inception (also in San Diego) is the center of Versant’s asset-centric push to find single drug programs, and develop them alongside a corporate partner that gets an early option to acquire before the drug reaches clinical trials. The firm has built its portfolio of these “build to buy” programs for a few years, and “2015 will be the year of validation for the model,” says Versant managing director Brad Bolzon, with two companies reaching possible triggers for acquisition.

Versant is up and down the West Coast, and so is heavy rain today, even closing schools in the Bay Area. (Laugh away, folks, that’s not a typo.)

It’s not exactly a flood, but here’s the rest of the West Coast news.

—Two California life science trade groups, BayBio and the San Diego-based California Healthcare Institute, agreed to merge and become the statewide California Biomedical Innovation Alliance. Left out for now is the San Diego-area trade group Biocom, as Xconomy reports here.

—San Francisco-based venture firm venBio saw founding partner Kurt von Emster jump to Abingworth, a 40-year-old group based in London. Von Emster will work from Abingworth’s Menlo Park, CA, office.

—Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen pledged $100 million to found the nonprofit Allen Institute for Cell Sciences in Seattle.

—The San Francisco Business Times noted that Calico of South San Francisco, CA, is hiring for several key positions.