With $375M in the bank, VC Abingworth hunts for a few promising biotechs

Abingworth Managing Partner Stephen Bunting

Days after word got out that Abingworth was nigh on closing its latest raise, the London-based venture capital stalwart has signed the final line on an upsized $375 million fund. Now, after coming through with some high-profile exits in recent years, Managing Partner Stephen Bunting said his firm is looking for the next generation of biotech winners.

With the new fund, Abingworth's 10th, the firm figures it can make up to 20 bets, staking roughly $10 million to $35 million in each investment. The pomp and circumstance around the closing is something of a formality, Bunting said, as Abingworth has had roughly 80% of the total committed for some time and already tapped the fund to support Effector Therapeutics' $45 million A round, among other deals.

And despite outstripping Abingworth's goal by more than $40 million, the latest fund is still far smaller than its last raise of $590 million, which came through in a looser, pre-downturn world of venture capital. Biotech's notorious volatility made limited partners a bit more skittish this time around, Bunting told FierceBiotech, and many treated Abingworth's raise as a brand new investment rather than a standard re-up.

"Is the market as good as 2007? No. It isn't. But I think people are still very interested by the area, just more cautious and careful, and I think that's appropriate," he said.

It helps, of course, that Abingworth parlayed its last fund into a bevy of exits that returned cash to investors, including successful IPOs for Dicerna Pharmaceuticals ($DRNA) and Clovis Oncology ($CLVS), and high-dollar Big Pharma buyouts for Algeta and Avila Therapeutics, to name just four. The firm is hardly new to the game, now entering its 41st year, and Abingworth's earliest investments include ground-floor deals with Gilead Sciences ($GILD), Alkermes ($ALKS) and the pre-merger Idec Pharmaceuticals.

But Bunting said the best days lie ahead. While the fates of financiers have been up and down over the past few years, scientific discovery has kept up a blistering pace, he said, and the steady march of discovery is sure to make for some promising startups in need of venture backing.

"It's not many years ago that people didn't know how to fly airplanes reliably," Bunting said. "The head of steam in the life sciences is phenomenal. It's an incredible decade ahead, frankly."

And Abingworth's bets tend to be all over the map, including traditional biologic and small-molecule plays alongside medical device outfits like Avedro, diagnostics companies like Epigenomics and innovative biopharma shops like Avillion, which seeks out late-stage drugs and takes on development costs in exchange for a cut of royalties.

"We'll do anything as long as it moves (in the right direction)," he said. "... Certain areas of endeavor are much easier than others, but that doesn't stop us from doing risky things in difficult areas if the people and ideas are good enough."

Bunting's firm joins a host of other biotech VC mainstays debuting new funds over the past 12 months. Early-stage backer 5AM Ventures revealed a $250 million second raise in December, joining Frazier Healthcare, which closed a $377 million purse in October, and VC giant OrbiMed, which launched a $735 million fund a month later. Life sciences investors NovaQuest, Third Rock and Atlas also unveiled funds in 2013, totaling more than $1 billion.

- here's the announcement

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