VC firm Canaan adds $100M-plus for biotech bets and tacks on a Pfizer vet to gauge early science

What’s another $100 million tacked onto a previously raised $850 million? Evidently, for venture firm Canaan Partners, tons. 

The private financing outfit has added a fresh nine-digit sum a year after closing its thirteenth fund. General Partner Julie Grant told Fierce Biotech that the money will act as a designated pool for biotech investments. 

“The additional capital that's been raised will be invested alongside the main fund,” she said. “It will allow us to do more deals in biopharma with the exact same strategy of going for early company formation, syndicated series A and syndicated series Bs and Cs.” 

The cash extends the total amount raised since early 2023 past $1 billion, with nearly half of the capital designated for the firm’s healthcare team. Think of the extra $100 million as a cherry on top for the biopharma investors. The other half of the roughly $1 billion will be for Canaan’s technology investors, with previous bets being placed on startups like Instacart and Turo, among others. Grant says the company plans to invest in 15 to 16 companies over the next three years using the money raised over the last year-plus. 

The firm has jumped aboard at least two biotech raises so far this year, including Nocion Therapeutics’ $62 million raise, money that's expected to be used to advance an inhaled chronic cough med. Canaan also contributed to Alterome Therapeutics’ $132 million series B led by Goldman Sachs. Alterome is working on developing small-molecule, precision cancer treatments. 

It’s not just capital that Canaan is adding. Joining the team as a venture partner is Uwe Schoenbeck, Ph.D., who is coming across from Pfizer. Schoenbeck previously served as senior vice president and chief scientific officer of the Big Pharma’s emerging science and innovation unit under the larger R&D umbrella. That team worked to bridge early science and young biotechs with Pfizer’s R&D ecosystem, an effort that included Pfizer’s Center for Therapeutic Innovation.

That initiative, in particular, helped introduce many new medicines to Pfizer’s pipeline, including an anti-TLA1 asset that was sold to Roivant, which flipped it to Roche for $7.1 billion. But a Pfizer spokesperson confirmed to Fierce Biotech yesterday that the unit's labs have been closed as part of a multi-billion-dollar cost-cutting plan. 

Schoenbeck's role at Pfizer meant he has been familiar with Canaan's work for around 10 years, he told Fierce in an interview.

“As part of my Pfizer role, we had been heavily engaged in Pfizer venture investments,” Schoenbeck said. “So we did have a number of engagements with quite a few VC companies over the years, that included Canaan.”

One area that Canaan has not yet dipped its toe into is the metabolic disease area. The ascending GLP-1 class has spurred a frenetic race among investors to place bets on biotechs developing obesity medications that could carve out billions in revenue down the line. Schoenbeck expects Canaan will make “targeted” investments in the broader cardiometabolic space in the future. 

“You have to make sure … you're properly positioned to really have a cutting edge versus the other, you know, hundreds of programs that have surfaced over the last year or two," he said.