Carlyle's acquisition of Abingworth brings $2 billion to fuel life science investments

Small but mighty transatlantic investment firm Abingworth has caught the attention—and appetite—of the Carlyle Group, who took the opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in life sciences.

Carlyle’s acquisition of Abingworth, announced Monday, was short on details but high on 10-figure-plus chest puffing. Carlyle, an investment firm with more than $301 billion in total assets, is absorbing the life science fund and its $2 billion in assets for an undisclosed amount. 

Carlyle, which to date has invested more than $22 billion into the healthcare sector, sees the move as a chance to widen its focus across even more pharma and life sciences targets.

While Carlyle's track record dwarfs the $3 billion Abingworth has sunk into the life sciences sector, the nearly 50-year-old Abingworth has demonstrated a clear eye for industry potential. Of the 179 companies it has been involved in, 46 have undergone M&A and 70 have gone public, a portfolio that includes Galapagos and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. 

But arguably more head-turning than the monetary success is the company’s regulatory wins: in the last nine years, these companies have secured 26 FDA approvals between them.

It’s this track record, and Abingworth’s ability to stay in lockstep with biotechs during the development process, that inspired the two companies to launch a new operating company, Launch Therapeutics. The entity will focus on funding “best-in-class, late-stage clinical assets” and will be led by Anshul Thakral, former chief commercial officer of CRO Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD) and current Carlyle operating executive. 

“We see a strong market need for a clinical development company that can bring access to capital, global resources, and deep operational expertise to biotech and biopharma companies looking to advance therapeutic candidates through clinical trials and regulatory approval,” Thakral said in a statement. 

The purchase of Abingworth and subsequent creation of Launch is an intentional, albeit slight, pivot for Carlyle into funding drug development. Many of its current top investments are CROs like PPD, or med tech developers like diagnostic services company Adicon. The head of Carlyle’s healthcare team, Steve Wise, said the new direction was spurred by the events of the past two years. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the increased need for expertise and access to capital to fund the development and commercialization of innovative healthcare and life sciences solutions in the years to come,” he said.