Pivotal bioVenture Partners closes $300M early biotech fund

The firm, led by Tracy Saxton, wants to help young startups grow with a focus on cutting-edge science and unmet medical needs

The Nan Fung Group’s venture capital firm Pivotal bioVenture Partners has raised its first fund, totaling $300 million, as it looks to help early-stage life science startups get off the ground. Its founder tells me she aims to not chase investment trends but seek out solid science and management teams.

The group is led by managing partner Tracy Saxton, Ph.D. (and the only full-time staff member for now), a former investor with the Roche Venture Fund and SV Life Sciences Advisers, where she focused on biopharma investments.

But she won’t be running things on her own: Karoly Nikolich, Ph.D., who was the founder of Circuit Therapeutics, will be an adviser to the company, with Nan Fung's MD Vincent Cheung also helping to run the firm. 

And Saxton tells FierceBiotech that there is more to come: “We are interviewing for an associate or principal to add to the investment professional staff and will build the team out with EIRs, venture partners and also add another managing partner and/or partner,” she says.

“We will be patient to add to the team, bringing in people that share our passion for biology, medicine and early stage discovery and development.”

Pivotal’s philosophy is to go early, and ground-breaking, with a focus on preclinical or pre-proof of concept therapeutics, from discovery through to phase 1 of clinical development, and will be centered on life sciences in the U.S. and Europe.

Saxton says that the $300 million will be used for those biotechs with “the potential to deliver transformative therapies.” 

What do they have to show: “Biology, biology, biology—without understanding molecular mechanisms we cannot design the appropriate modulators. You will not find Pivotal chasing investment trends; we will invest in solid science and strong management teams.”

In terms of disease areas, Saxton says: “We are interested in infectious disease, immunology, oncology, ophthalmology, orphan diseases—we are indication agnostic as long as there is logical connection between the science and the disease area and an unmet medical need which intervention can address.”

She says that while there are many funds focused on de-risked clinical assets rather than early-stage therapeutics: “We plan to be an active investor in the early stage arena and look forward to partnering with leading-edge, science-based companies to achieve this goal.”

Saxton says that at the beginning at least, it will not be incubating and running its own internal biotechs, but added that, as she builds the team: “We will definitely be seeding and starting companies.”

Does she think 2017 and beyond will continue what has been a strong run for life science VCs, and why focus on earlier biotechs?

“Biotechnology has done very well over the past few years so there is a growth in capital into this area, as funds get larger they need to put more capital to work on each investment and therefore tend to shift to later stage clinical assets.

“We believe that Pivotal is the right size fund to be able to back emerging companies with early stage programs—large enough that we can fund the companies well but not so big that we encourage them to take capital that they may not need to create value.”

The firm was created by the Nan Fung Group, a Chinese property developer in Hong Kong.