Most new drug companies start small, with few staff members and little money. So in exchange for equity in their company, biotechs can raise much-needed cash from venture funds looking to invest in a technology early in order to earn a big pay-off down the road. Experienced individuals from the venture capital firms usually play a key role making decision and guiding the new company through the development process. 

Venture capital funds will, at various stages, provide fresh infusions of cash if a biotech's program shows promise and continues to move through the clinic without hitting any major speed bumps. Ideally, the drugmaker will exit when the it's in a position to demand a premium price. Promising Phase II or, better yet, Phase III data could tempt a larger company to make a pricy buyout offer. Alternately, some developers attempt to raise money by filing an IPO. This is a gamble at best. While some high-flying developers like Pacific Biosciences have had success on the open market in recent months, investors still lack an appetite for small developers with no drugs in the market and the risk of an FDA delay or rejection looming in the future.

In 2010 biotech venture capital investing began to recover from its 2009 low, growing three percent in the number of dollars raised and eight percent in the number of deals which were struck. That represents a significant bounce-back from 2009, which saw biotech investing plummet 19 percent during the worst of the economic crisis. The industry dropped to second place overall behind software, with $3.7 billion going into 460 deals.

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Biotech Venture Capital

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The geography of money in biotech

I've been in the U.K. for a few days now, grabbing some meetings along the way after discussing valuations in biotechnology with a group of One Nucleus members at The Babraham Institute near Cambridge. And I've been thinking about this question a lot this week.

UPDATED: Third Rock backs $14M round for Igenica's cancer-fighting antibodies

The antibody upstart Igenica has rounded up $14 million in venture cash to move its lead drug into the clinic. The Column Group, 5AM Ventures, OrbiMed and Third Rock Ventures all participated in the round.

Amgen spinoff Atara banks $38.5M as it races ahead with CKD, cancer trials

A little more than a year after launching with a portfolio of 6 early-stage assets from Amgen, Atara Biotherapeutics has rounded up $38.5 million in the first close of its Series B round, fueling its drive into Phase II with a lead asset while teeing up another program for its entry into the clinic.

UPDATED: Big Biopharmas help fuel a $26M round for Sutro's immunotherapy work

Amgen, Celgene and Eli Lilly joined forces with some prominent venture players to back a $26 million round for Sutro Biopharma, a San Francisco-based biotech which has been garnering some careful scrutiny for its work on antibodies.

UPDATED: VC OrbiMed hauls in $735M fund in 'vibrant' time for biotech

As biotech venture funding plods along at a middling pace, A-list investor OrbiMed has bagged $735 million for its 5th fund, cash earmarked for life sciences companies across all stages of development.

Versant Ventures amassing $200M fund for biotech upstarts

California VC Versant Ventures is putting together another $200 million fund, according to a regulatory filing, building up its chest as biotech investments maintain their sluggish pace.

As VC falters, early-stage biotechs look elsewhere for cash

First-time venture deals in biotech cratered to a 17-year low in the first three quarters of 2013, but that doesn't mean startups are starving. As The Burrill Report points out, despite the VC drought, about a quarter of all equity deals in that period went into Series A rounds, meaning early-stage companies are getting creative and nailing down alternative funding sources.

VC funding follows tepid pace in Q3 as first-time biotech rounds shrivel

Biotech companies in the U.S. drew a weak $852 million in venture support over the past quarter, a distinct downturn over a burst of new financing rounds in the second quarter. That dollar figure represented a 39% plunge from the second quarter, though the smaller bankroll was divided among 123 deals, with a 10% jump in the number of companies involved.

Versartis nabs $20M in VC cash to take growth hormone to PhIII

California's Versartis is having quite a year, pulling down another $20 million in venture financing to get its once-a-month growth hormone through mid-stage trials.

Pharmalink grabs $15M VC round for key studies on cancer, renal disease drugs

Stockholm-based Pharmalink AB is banking $15 million from a C round designed to get one drug through a Phase IIb study and position another therapy for a pivotal trial of its own.