UK life sciences seek angel investors
City professionals will be urged to pour some of their personal wealth into medical research and technology this week as part of a push to attract more angel investment into UK life sciences.
Bankers, lawyers and business executives are among the targets of a campaign to match wealthy individuals with early-stage biotech and medical technology companies in need of funding.
The scheme, to be launched on Wednesday, is part of the broader MedCity project aimed at establishing London and the southeast as Europe’s top life science hub.
Eliot Forster, chairman of MedCity, said: “We have world-leading research and infrastructure, but we don’t have the kind of liquidity you find in Boston or San Francisco, which is what you need to create and grow a critical mass of exciting young companies.”
Dubbed “Angels in MedCity”, the initiative will seek to create a community of people who can club together in syndicates and connect them with seasoned life science investors to help navigate the notoriously risky sector.
Investment workshops will be held where potential “angels” can receive free expert advice and there will be regular Dragon’s Den-style parades for start-up companies to pitch for money.
The scheme aims to tap growing enthusiasm for angel investment as well as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending as wealthy individuals look for alternative ways to allocate capital in an era of low interest rates and sluggish economic growth.
A group called Angels in the City has attracted about 300 investors and helped 39 London companies raise more than £30m since its launch in 2011.
Much of the cash has been directed at technology start-ups in London’s thriving TechCity cluster and Mr Forster is hoping that angel investors will play a similar role in helping to develop MedCity.
Larger UK biotech companies have seen a resurgence in financing from venture capital funds and public equity markets this year, with £734m raised in the first half, surpassing the £483m secured in the whole of 2013.
However, early-stage funding remains scarce. This is often cited as a reason why the UK has been less successful than the US in commercialising scientific breakthroughs from universities.
Simon Kerry, chief executive of Oxford-based Karus Therapeutics and an adviser to MedCity, said angel investment was becoming an increasingly important part of the funding mix for life science. “It can be as little as £10,000-£30,000 as part of a syndicate. You don’t have to be a Russian oligarch,” he said.
One of the experienced angel investors taking part in the scheme is Aman Coonar, a consultant surgeon from Cambridge. “I have a very safe investment portfolio like most professionals with a pension, property and a few shares. Angel investment gives me something higher risk and potentially higher return.”
Anthony Clarke, managing director of London Business Angels, another investor network backing the MedCity initiative, said life science investment can be daunting to non-specialists. “Our programme will cut through the complexity, and give people the understanding they need to get involved.”
MedCity was launched in April by Boris Johnson, mayor of London, to increase collaboration between Imperial College, King’s College and University College London – the capital’s three main science universities – and promote the broader “golden triangle” between London, Cambridge and Oxford to investors.
All three London institutions, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, rank among the world’s top 11 universities for medical research, according to Times Higher