Moscow backs clones of Western biotech programs in Russia

Call them Russian biotech clones. With financial support from the Russian government, investors from the country are licensing drugs from Western companies and developing them for the market in Russia--putting smiles on the faces of U.S. and European biotech outfits in the process. (Seriously, we mean "clone" in the least pejorative sense possible. This should be a good thing for biotech.)

Take Hepatera, the recently formed Russian biotech startup. Moscow-based Maxwell Biotech Venture Fund, which is 50% backed by the Russian government, hatched the company last year to develop treatments for liver diseases, with the startup's lead drug for hepatitis B licensed from German biotech MYR. MYR grabbed an investment from Maxwell, too.

With backing from Moscow, Hepatera will now develop MYR's hep B drug for the Russian market.

Hepatera has emerged as just one of many ventures created recently with the help of government funding. RusNano, another government-backed venture fund, has joined forces with U.S. venture firm Domain Associates with the stated goal of funneling science from abroad into Russia for development and marketing in the country. At Maxwell Biotech Venture Fund, which recently opened an office in Boston's Back Bay, there's a mandate not only to score good returns on investments but also to sow the seeds of the biotech industry in Russia.  

"The primary goal of the fund is to invest in the creation of the Russian biotechnology industry," Alexey Eliseev, managing director at Maxwell, told FierceBiotech. "But we realized quickly that it was really important to collaborate with investment companies outside of Russia because this is where most of the innovation comes from."

For the recent Hepatera-MYR deal, Maxwell teamed up with German venture outfit High Tech Gründerfonds, which is also backing MYR.

Certainly, we've seen Singapore and other countries pump capital into Western biotechs in the past as part of their domestic economic development strategies. But Russian government-backed funds have been supremely active in life sciences investing lately, a very positive development for early-stage drug developers from Moscow to San Diego.

Here's a list (our empirical evidence to support this post, really) of recent coverage related to Russian investments in biopharma:

Russian biotech VC and Quintiles to join forces on pharma services startups
$100M Russian biotech fund opens shop in Boston
Domain partners with RusNano on $760M biotech investment plan
Burrill raises $313M for new life sciences venture fund 
Russian fund leads $94.5M investment in two Langer biotechs
Russian agency backs upstart nano-bio with tailored pricing plan

 -- Ryan McBride (Email | Twitter)

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