San Francisco’s Versant Ventures Makes Splash in Vancouver; $10 Million to Biotech Company

San Francisco and Menlo Park-based US venture capital firm Versant Ventures is “venturing” up north.

The life sciences venture capital firm is building a presence in British Columbia so it can invest in early-stage drug discovery companies and aid R&D and commercialization of scientific research in the province.

It’s first order of business is a $10 million series A investment into a new company it created: Vancouver-based biotech company Inception 4. Inception 4 will join forces with Bayer Healthcare to develop innovative therapeutics for retinal eye disease.

“We are investing in B.C. to develop early-stage companies because we know there is exceptional research talent and leading academic research in the province,” said Versant Ventures’ Brad Bolzon. “Our firm has a strong track record of investing in early-stage research as well as partnering with global biopharmaceutical companies to develop new medicines. We want to accelerate these types of discovery programs in B.C.”

Looking to replicate some of the success the firm has achieved in the US, it comes into Canada with $1.6 billion in assets under management in life sciences. Versant formerly kickstarted Amira, a San Diego-based company that exited to Bristol Myers Squibb in 2011. Key members of the Amira team then went on to found Inception Sciences. “Since 2005, these initiatives in San Diego have generated six pharmaceutical companies and generated almost 100 jobs in theSan Diego area. More than $90 million in venture capital has been committed across multiple drug discovery programs generated through Amira and Inception Sciences,” wrote the company.

British Columbia Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat, who oversees the Province’s venture capital programs and the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund, was supportive of Versant. “British Columbia provides excellent opportunities for early-stage private capital to invest in world-class scientific and research teams,” she said. “We are very pleased that Versant has recognized British Columbia’s competitive advantages and established operations in Vancouver.”

The firm also recently formed a biotechnology incubator in Toronto, called Blueline Bioscience. It focused on new companies in areas such as oncology and inflammation. Blueline Bioscience is headquartered in the MaRS Discovery District of Toronto.

“Versant has a unique model for investing in and launching early-stage companies and we see ourselves being very active in the Canadian biotechnology sector going forward,” said Versant Ventures’ Jerel Davis. “We have established ourselves in Vancouver, have already launched a new company in this market, and have created Blueline Bioscience in Toronto. Versant also looks forward to expanding our operations into the Quebec market in 2014.”

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