GSK stakes $50M Canadian investment fund, betting on early-stage biotech research

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) wants to do its part to make sure Canada's biotech scene remains vital as drug developers struggle to find capital for early-stage research. The London-based drug giant plans to pump $50 million into the GSK Canada Life Sciences Innovation Fund, which will be supported by the company's group based in the country as well as its venture capital arm, SR One.

With so many stakeholders in the biotech field in need of funding, GSK appears to be spreading its bets widely with its new fund. The fund will funnel dollars into academic groups working on important science, translational research and startups aiming to commercialize products, according to the company. In addition to writing checks for programs, the company hopes that recipients will benefit from its hefty R&D experience.

GSK and many of its peers in Big Pharma have stepped up their roles in funding early-stage research in recent years as traditional sources of backing for biotech groups have come up short. The lack of funding for new ideas has been a cause of concern among pharma executives eyeing the future growth of their industry and entrepreneurs wanting to get projects off the ground. Yet GSK has been in the venture business for decades, with the formation of SR One in 1985 and the venture unit's more than $600 million in investments into biotech firms. The group appears to have more experience backing U.S. and European biotechs than companies in other countries, yet that seems reasonable as the U.S. and Europe have mature life sciences sectors.

"Canada has a significant innovation gap and a big part of the issue is our ability to commercialize the research taking place in our Universities and research centres," Paul Lucas, chief executive of GSK's Canadian division, said in an interview with the Financial Post in Toronto. "One of the fundamental underlying problems is the availability of risk capital and I really believe this is going to be very important to Canada in advancing its whole life sciences strategy by providing that risk capital to move this commercialization effort along."

- here's the release
- see the Financial Post article
- and the Reuters update

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