Sofinnova teams with Italian biotech vets to set up startup accelerator

Sofinnova Partners is setting up an Italian biotech accelerator in partnership with the entrepreneurs who guided EOS to a $420 million (€394 million) buyout. The team's first move was hook up with a tech transfer company in a deal that will give the accelerator a source of potential biotech startups.

BiovelocITA CEO Gabriella Camboni

In setting up the accelerator, dubbed BiovelocITA, Sofinnova Partners has reunited with Silvano Spinelli and Gabriella Camboni, veterans of the Italian biotech startup scene. Spinelli and Camboni co-founded and led EOS, which picked up investment from Sofinnova Partners before attracting a $420 million buyout bid from Clovis Oncology ($CLVS). Prior to that, Spinelli and Camboni helped to set up Novuspharma, a spinout from Roche ($RHHBY) that was bankrolled by Sofinnova Partners before going public in Italy and ultimately selling out to CTI BioPharma ($CTIC) for $236 million.

Spinelli and Camboni will serve respectively as chairman and CEO of BiovelocITA. And with Sofinnova Partners involved with the funding of the accelerator, BiovelocITA has arguably the most successful management-finance team in the history of biotech in Italy at the helm. The idea is to tap into this wealth of experience to help researchers turn scientific breakthroughs discovered at Italian research institutes into local biotech startups. Sofinnova Partners' Graziano Seghezzi thinks Italy now has the raw materials needed to make the model work.

"There is a window of opportunity in Italy: The science is excellent and the pool of entrepreneurs is growing," Seghezzi said in a statement. "BiovelocITA has the capacity to seize this moment as it will connect the three indispensable players of a solid entrepreneur-oriented biotech market: Best-in-class scientists, managers and investors." In the past, some Italian researchers have looked overseas for help turning ideas into companies. Intercept Pharmaceuticals ($ICPT), which is based on science from the University of Perugia but based in New York, is a notable example.

For maturing companies, the lure of the U.S. is likely to remain strong for the foreseeable future, but BiovelocITA thinks it can provide local support for biotechs that are just starting out. BiovelocITA is looking for research idea it can help develop into early-stage biotechs. Management has already inked a partnership with TTFactor, the tech-transfer firm that represents FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology, Istituto Europeo di Oncologia and Centro Cardiologico Monzino, to gain access to a source of potential startup ideas.

To date, Sofinnova Partners and other investors have chipped in €6 million. BiovelocITA is looking for further investment to ensure it has the cash to help turn the most promising of the 10 projects it is now assessing into biotechs.

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