Versant Ventures

Versant Ventures

Dollars: $186.87 million
Deals: 37
Based: Menlo Park, CA
Founded: 1999

Like several of the top 15 venture groups of 2012, Versant Ventures has been operating with funds raised in the 2007/2008 time frame. In Versant's case, partners are still working with a $500 million fund primarily for devices and biopharma, which was first offered up as the financial markets were crashing down around the world.

Its resources have helped keep it busy in the U.S., and last year it extended its reach with a new office in Switzerland, establishing a beachhead in a continent hungry for venture cash.

In one of its most recent investments, Versant ponied up part of the cash for Ocular Therapeutix's $24 million Series D and just recently stepped in to add to Novira Therapeutics' Series A, funding new research on antivirals. Versant has backed Flexion, which started out as a new operation led by Eli Lilly ($LLY) vets looking to show just how efficiently new drugs can be developed and then latched on to lead drugs for osteoarthritis, prepared to take them all the way through Phase III if necessary.

The group has invested in 2011 Fierce 15 company Theraclone as part of a recent $14 million round designed to help fund the Seattle-based biotech's effort on antibodies that can work against a range of influenza strains as well as CMV. Achaogen, an antibiotics developer, raised $56 million from a syndicate that included Versant back in 2010. It's also backed Okairos, which is working on a hep C vaccine and helped fund OpGen's genome-mapping services.

One of its portfolio companies, Kythera ($KYTH), went public with a new fat-busting therapy. Other IPOs include Clovis Oncology and Jazz Pharmaceuticals. And among its M&A deals, Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) $475 million acquisition of Amira--with $350 million in upfront cash--stands out.

Versant has been expanding its core team, too. The group brought in Guido Magni, Roche's ($RHHBY) former head of medical sciences, for a new office in Basel last year. And the group has also stayed busy on the devices end. CardiAQ Valve Technologies raised a big $37 million round last year with its help. Inogen raised $20 million.

Versant has also been active in a new field for venture groups: creating portfolio companies that can be quickly ramped up and sold to Big Pharma once they establish a foundation of efficacy and safety data. Its Inception Sciences incubator recently allied with Roche to start up a company that has in-licensed a new drug technology on hearing from Stanford University. The biotech will now be nurtured with Inception's scientific management and funded with Roche's R&D support.

Inception 3 is the latest in a new wave of virtual companies that are being hatched by venture groups which have been toying with low-cost startups with a very narrow scientific objective. CMEA and Atlas have both established similar operations designed to breed new programs that can be swiftly partnered with Big Pharma companies hungry for new drugs and searching for partners to share the risk.

A spokesperson for Versant says that managing director Brad Bolzon was out of the country and couldn't be reached for a comment on the group's venture investing philosophy.

Special Report: Theraclone Sciences - 2011 Fierce 15

For more:
Versant adds $7.5M to upstart biotech's A round
Roche, Versant launch new-wave biotech startup

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

Versant Ventures

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