AstraZeneca pumping $100M more into VC unit

As the biotech venture world gets more corporate, AstraZeneca ($AZN) has re-upped its commitment to its MedImmune Ventures group with $100 million in additional funding. The new capital brings the VC unit's funds under management to $400 million and keeps AstraZeneca a strong player in the healthcare venture club, which has lost some of its long-standing members due to the challenges of backing drug developers.

MedImmune Ventures, which presumably became part of AZ in the drugmaker's buyout of U.S. biotech MedImmune, aims to keep making bets on biotech startups as well as medical and healthcare technology outfits, according to a release. The venture group emphasized its global hunt for good deals with the announcement that it co-led a second-round financing for Australian biotech NeuProtect with Starfish Ventures. It's also another example of a deal in which a corporate VC has joined a traditional venture firm to propel an early-stage drug developer.

"We look at core areas of interest to AstraZeneca, in terms of therapeutic areas, but we also look more broadly into what we call 'white spaces' that are areas that AstraZeneca may look at strategically in future, or may enter into for pharmaceutical development such as diagnostics, or to help their IT, " Atul Saran, senior vice president of corporate development and ventures at MedImmune, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Like its peers, MedImmune Ventures has been investing in developers with programs that could potentially help restock its corporate group's R&D pipeline. Returns are important too, of course. In 2009, MedImmune Ventures started to take the returns from its venture bets and pump them back into its funding pot, taking on an "evergreen" model. It's not clear how well this model is working out, as many young biotechs have struggled to achieve liquidity events through IPOs. For instance, Ambit Biosciences pulled its IPO plans this year and returned to its venture backers (including MedImmune Ventures) for another round of VC financing.

MedImmune Ventures-backed Rib-X Pharmaceuticals revealed IPO plans on Monday, and will try to go public with a pipeline of new antibiotics and a partnership with French drugmaker Sanofi ($SNY).

- here's the release
- read Dow Jones' report

Special Report: AstraZeneca - The world's biggest R&D spenders

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