Can PureTech and its high-profile board raise $160M in London?

Boston-based PureTech, an investment group which is better known for its high-profile board than its portfolio of upstart life sciences companies, has landed in the U.K. with a plan to raise $160 million on the London stock market.

Daphne Zohar

PureTech chief executive Daphne Zohar quickly won some admiring reviews from the financial pubs that cover the U.K. Andrew Ward at the Financial Times noted that a successful listing would be a "coup" for the U.K., as PureTech's board includes such industry celebrities as ex-Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher. MIT star researcher and PureTech co-founder Robert Langer, ex-Pfizer R&D chief John LaMattina and Dame Marjorie Scardino, ex-CEO of Pearson--which owns the Financial Times--are also on the board.

Zohar told Ward that PureTech should fit in comfortably in the London exchange, where groups like Imperial Innovations have helped pioneer the kind of early-stage tech investing that PureTech specializes in. This new move to float in London is also being billed as a strategic effort to bankroll the venture as it starts to move its portfolio biotechs toward commercialization.

"We realized the UK was the best place for us because investors understand the model," she told the Financial Times. PureTech raised $107 million in two funding rounds in late 2014 and early 2015, with a total bankroll of $250 million, according to its statement on the exchange. The float is expected to be completed in June. PureTech's portfolio covers a dozen different life sciences companies. 

PureTech's companies, though, have a much lower profile than the group's leaders, and have tended to struggle when they do get in the limelight. One of its top biotech startups, the weight-loss venture Gelesis, just scrapped its plans for a $60 million IPO on Nasdaq after failing to make a strong proof-of-concept case for its stomach-filling particles. But PureTech has also won interest from some of the heavyweight players in the industry, including Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), which recently struck a modest-sized pact to partner with the group's Vedanta on a new bacterial treatment for inflammatory bowel disease.

It also didn't escape notice in the U.K. that PureTech's play follows Verseon's decision to list in London, raising $100 million from high-profile biotech investor Neil Woodford and others. But it's easily the exception that tends to prove the rule that biotechs in Europe look more to Nasdaq in New York than any exchanges closer to home--a fact that Oxford-based Adaptimmune ($ADAP) underscored just days ago when the U.K. biotech raised $191 million in its IPO on Nasdaq.

U.K. biotechs have often struggled to make a case with investors in recent years, many of whom had been burned by past failures. Woodford, though, has found ample support for his efforts. And maybe they'll warm up to PureTech's board and its familiar model of early-stage life sciences investing as well.

- here's the story in the Financial Times
- read the report in The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)

Special Report: 2010's Top 10 Women in Biotech - Daphne Zohar, PureTech Ventures