VC boom: U.K. charity births $80M biotech fund for cancer drug research

An $80 million biotech fund is taking shape in the U.K., the latest in a series of new venture plays that will start pumping cash into upstart drug development companies. The commercial arm of Cancer Research UK has joined hands with the European Investment Fund to launch a 25 million euro fund specifically to help developers bridge the gap between preclinical work and mid-stage studies. And they plan to double that in two years if all things work out according to plan.

Dubbed the CRT Pioneer Fund, backers say they'll support scientists who are taking cancer drugs from discovery on to the threshold of Phase II studies--a segment that's been avoided by many classic venture groups. The bulk of the cash will be reserved for cancer treatments studied by Cancer Research UK scientists. 

"This important investment means we can take forward the most innovative approaches using our in-house drug discovery and development capabilities, to progress promising treatments from the lab all the way to clinical trials, translating our world-class scientific research into new treatments more quickly," said Keith Blundy, CEO of Cancer Research Technology.

The announcement is just the latest in a string of new biotech funding efforts that could benefit the U.K., a hotbed of drug research which has been afflicted by a chilly investment scene in recent years. Index Ventures launched a $200 million fund--primarily for European companies--with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) which is also zeroing in on early-stage work. The Wellcome Trust launched its $317 million Project Sigma just days ago. Sir Chris Evans (photo), who's been leading the charge for greater investment in the industry, launched a $132 million fund in Wales with an eye to pushing that to $375 million. And Scottish Enterprises is reportedly putting the finishing touches on a new fund that would pump "tens of millions of pounds" into the life sciences.

Add it all up and you have about $730 million-plus in the works for the U.K. and Europe. That's a significant amount of support for a research community that is bristling with talent and promising discovery work.

- here's the release
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