Advent raises $215M to nurture another troop of biotechs

Advent general partners Shahzad Malik, M.D., (left) and Raj Parekh (Advent)

Advent Life Sciences has raised $215 million to back early-stage life science companies on both sides of the Atlantic. The fundraising positions the VC shop that founded Arrakis and KaNDy Therapeutics to place a fresh round of bets.

Having seen its portfolio companies win approvals for 14 new medical products in the past 15 years, Advent is largely sticking to the blueprint that has served it well in the past. Shahzad Malik, M.D., general partner at Advent, said that means being guided by a first-in-class, best-in-class mantra as well as being largely therapeutic area agnostic. 

Some details have changed, though. While Advent raised some of the money for its third life science fund, another chunk of the cash is allocated to an impact fund it has set up with the not-for-profit U.S. discovery group Harrington Discovery Institute. Malik sees the institute as a good fit for Advent.

“It increases the scope and scale of our activities on a transatlantic basis. And specifically, in terms of the impact element, there will be some profits going from the impact fund back into the Harrington Discovery Institute, to back the next generation of great scientists and clinician scientists,” Malik said. “It's a virtuous cycle we've established.” The two funds will invest in parallel. 

Advent funds are typically overweight in oncology and immunology but play in all therapeutic areas other than stroke and sepsis, and they split 60/40 between Europe and the U.S. Like many of its peers, the VC shop’s investment vehicles generally back around 15 to 18 companies.

Changes to the strategy are limited to tweaks in response to the changing scientific environment and unmet needs. Malik expects targeted molecular approaches to oncology, an existing area of focus, to become even more important to Advent. Similarly, having helped put the concept of RNA-targeted small molecules on the map through its work with Arrakis, Advent remains interested in drugging the nucleic acid.

COVID-19 is also influencing Advent’s interests. “I still think that vaccines for the most part is a big company game, but it's quite likely that COVID will become an endemic virus. So novel, preferably oral, antivirals to treat COVID and prevent the most serious infections would be an area that we'd be interested in looking at,” Malik said.

The pandemic also affected how Advent raised the new funds. Travel to in-person meetings was off the agenda, but, like his counterparts at Abingworth, Malik found the remote approach worked well.

“In some ways it made it more efficient. These online platforms allow you to do many more meetings in a day than one might do otherwise,” Malik said. “Having said that, fundamentally, in any investing exercise, people are backing people. And there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”

Advent raised some of the money from British Patient Capital, a £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) subsidiary of the U.K. government’s development bank. The program, which was established in 2018, has now committed £150 million to five life science funds.