Ireland sets up public/private venture capital strategy for biotech sector

The Irish government has launched a national strategy to develop its life sciences industry.

A public/private partnership between Enterprise Ireland and Seroba BioVentures has been launched, creating the first venture capital fund dedicated solely to the Irish biotechnology sector.

Seroba, a specialist biotechnology and life sciences fund manager has set up a E25m Irish BioScience Venture Capital Fund. The fund, which has already completed a first closing of EUR15 million, will invest in seed and early stage projects in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical fields, emerging from leading research institutes, universities, research hospitals and existing companies.

The fund is part of Enterprise Ireland's national strategy 'Building Biotech Businesses', an initiative intended to grow and develop Ireland's biotechnology and life sciences industries. Enterprise Ireland, the equivalent of the UK's DTI, has invested E7.5m in the fund. The remaining E7.5m came from corporate a institutional investors including Elan Corporation Plc, Friends First and KBC Asset Management.

Launching the strategy Mary Harney, minister for enterprise, trade and employment said: 'The government is committed to developing the right long-term policies and investing in the key areas needed to sustain and grow the economy through the next generation. Biotechnology is predicted to be a major basis for economic growth in the 21st Century.' The medium-term objective of Enterprise Ireland is, within five years, to have increased the number of biotech companies from a current base of 21 to 60 and to increase the the number of people employed in the sector from 400 at present presently to 1800.

She added: 'The strategy will promote and support the development of the private sector seed and venture capital environment in Ireland…This is exactly the type of partnership which will guarantee the future of the biotechnology industry in Ireland.'

Seroba BioVentures, which was formed by Peter Sandys and Seamus O'Hara last month, was selected as the fund manager after winning a competitive tender. The founders identified a gap in the market for biotechnology funding generally and particularly for early stage projects in the sector.

Sandys, a chartered accountant and a founder and former MD of ABN Amro Corporate Finance in Ireland, and O'Hara, a biotechnology graduate with a background in research and development, hope to bridge the gap in the market by capitalising on their combined knolwedge and experiences. 'We are hoping to be the catalyst to get some of the projects off the ground,' said Sandys.