Los Angeles biotech companies continued to see strong venture capital investment in 2018 with more money waiting in the wings that startups and researchers hope will be deployed to the region in the years to come.
2018’s headliner in biotech venture capital came in the form of the newly minted Westlake Village BioPartners, which unveiled a $320 million fund with the goal of targeted investments in the next generation of L.A. drug, medical device and diagnostic companies.
The king-sized fund, led by biotech development veterans from the Kleiner Perkins venture capital firm and pharmaceutical giant Amgen Inc., put a stamp of approval on L.A.’s emerging bioscience sector, according to Carolyn Hull, vice president for industry development at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
“The big story is Westlake Village BioPartners,” Hull said. “L.A. is now seen as a bioscience area, where years ago, it was a fly-over county on the way to San Diego or San Francisco.”
Westlake Village BioPartners’ fund is among the largest in a growing number of venture capital firms to focus on Los Angeles’ life sciences market.
It was co-founded by two medical doctors, Beth Seidenberg and Sean Harper, who have more than 40 years in combined experience in life sciences investing, and research and development.
Seidenberg, a former biotech investor at Kleiner Perkins in Menlo Park, once held executive roles at Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Merck Research Laboratories. Since 2006, she has invested in and helped incubate 13 biotech ventures, including South San Francisco-based Atara Biotherapeutics Inc., which this year opened a 90,000-square-foot T-cell immunotherapy manufacturing facility in Thousand Oaks.
Seidenberg said in an interview that the launch of Westlake follows the “wildly successful” development of L.A.-area biotech firms − from Amgen in Thousand Oaks to Kite, a Gilead Co. in Santa Monica.
“The time was right,” said Seidenberg, who lives in Los Angeles. “It’s happening. It’s exciting. ”
Harper currently serves as an executive vice president in charge of research and development at Amgen, where he has also worked with Amgen’s venture fund. He previously worked at Merck and has helped in the development of 14 new drugs. Harper will move over to Westlake effective Jan. 1.
He said Los Angeles has a lot to offer with its emerging cluster of medical innovation, strong slate of research universities and deep talent pool. “A dedicated life sciences fund of this size,” Harper said in an interview, “will allow the transformation of this region.”
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