Life-science companies lead VC race

BOULDER — Cancer drug research company Clovis Oncology Inc. received the most venture capital funding in the last five years — $146 million — of any company in the region, according to Thomson Reuters data compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers LP.

The Boulder-based company (Nasdaq: CLVS) received the investment commitments of $146 million in 2009 as the company formed its management team and started searching for drug candidate products to license, said Anna Sussman, a company spokeswoman. Company leaders used a small amount of the money to pay for start-up costs, Sussman said.

Patrick Mahaffy, former head of bioscience company Pharmion Corp., started Clovis with other members of his former executive team. Pharmion was acquired by Celgene Corp. in 2008 for $2.9 billion.

In November 2009, Clovis entered a partnership with Clavis Pharma ASA in Oslo, Norway, to develop a pancreatic cancer drug. Under terms of that agreement, Clovis paid the Norwegian company $15 million from the venture capital it had raised, Sussman said. Clovis took an additional $50 million from the venture capital pot to start developing the drug, Sussman said.

Venture capital firms investing in Clovis Oncology have included: Aberdare Ventures in San Francisco; Abingworth LLP in London; Domain Associates LLC, with a West Coast office in San Diego; Frazier Healthcare, which has a Seattle office; New Enterprise Associates Inc. in Menlo Park, California; ProQuest Investments in Princeton, New Jersey; and Versant Ventures, Inc., with an office in Menlo Park, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers data.

“Clearly, the venture capital funding was critical to getting Clovis up and running and establishing our development pipeline,” Sussman said.

Clovis Oncology was able to raise more capital by going public with an initial stock offering in 2011, Sussman said. The company also was able to generate cash and license fees for a deal with the New York-based biopharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) for the drug candidate rucaparib in 2011. The drug candidate is used to treat breast and ovarian cancer.

Clovis isn’t the only notable local life-science company that has been successful with venture capital investments in recent years, said Kyle Lefkoff, a partner at Boulder Ventures Ltd. in Boulder.

Scientists and discoveries at the University of Colorado have spun out numerous interesting companies that continue to draw interest from venture capital companies, Lefkoff said. He pointed to the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado-Boulder, headed by Nobel prize winner Tom Cech and other notable industry leaders, as a place expected to spin off more innovative companies.

The BioFrontiers Institute is “a huge deal for Boulder,” Lefkoff said. “Over the next 25 years, it’s going to dominate the landscape.”

According to the Pricewaterhouse Coopers data, all of the largest venture capital investment recipients during the past five years in the Boulder Valley were life-sciences companies.

Other companies following Clovis Oncology include:

• Somalogic Inc., which received $35 million in 2008 and $15 million in 2010. The Boulder company researches possible new drugs;

• OPX Biotechnologies Inc., which received $36.5 million in 2011 and $12.1 million in 2009. The Boulder company makes biologically based chemicals used in paint and gasoline;

• GlobeImmune Inc., which received $17.5 million in 2010 and $13 million in 2009. The Boulder company researches new drug candidates, including one to treat hepatitis C.

• Crosstrees Medical Inc., which received $12.03 million in 2008. The Boulder company makes a medical device to treat fractured vertebrae.

• MiRagen Therapeutics Inc., which received $12 million in 2009. The Boulder company makes drug candidates to treat cardiovascular disease.

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