Russian billionaire bankrolls early-stage biotech VC group

Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik is bankrolling a new venture capital company which will troll the academic labs in Cambridge, MA for promising early-stage therapeutics that can be used to launch new biotech companies. Daniel Behr, the former outlicensing chief at Harvard, will head up the new venture, with $75 million in Blavatnik chips to gamble.

Access BridgeGap Ventures will also be led by Ben Bronstein, who was a co-founder of Peptimmune (acquired by Genzyme and then spun out, filing for bankruptcy liquidation earlier this year) and a managing director of Zero Stage Capital. "Our focus is on early-stage therapeutics - treating or preventing disease--not devices or diagnostics or imaging,'' Behr told The Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner. The fund plans to back three to 5 companies a year.

The two VC execs also plan to spread a wide net for new therapeutics. They will look in academic labs as well as early-stage developers and some pharma companies which are spinning off programs as they restructure their pipelines. The money, not a huge sum by VC standards, is expected to last a few years and Blavatnik has the option of adding money along the way.  Behr told the Globe that he's close to announcing their first investment.

"Commercially promising innovations being developed in research institutions and in young startups are often deemed too early for partnering by industry or for investment by traditional venture capital," says Bronstein in a prepared statement. "Our focus is to translate early-stage science into commercially relevant products and companies."

According to their web site, the new venture group also has a few high-profile advisers to call on. They include William Koster, the former early stage R&D chief at Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Isaac Kohlberg, the chief technology development officer of Harvard's Office of Technology Development.

- here's the press release
|- read the story from The Boston Globe
- here's the link to the group's web site