Unity Biotechnology, which raised $116m last week, is the fourth Arch Venture Partners-launched startup to be backed by WuXi PharmaTech.
The $116m series B round closed last week by Unity Biotechnology, a US-based developer of treatments for diseases related to aging, demonstrates how corporate healthcare investors and venture capital firms can collaborate in early-stage companies.
Unity raised the funding from medical research firms WuXi PharmaTech and Mayo Clinic, the latter of which took part through its Mayo Clinic Ventures subsidiary, as well as VC firms Arch Venture Partners and Venrock, financial services group Fidelity Management and Research, investment management firms Baillie Gifford and Partner Fund Management, and Bezos Expeditions, the investment vehicle for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Unity is developing senolytic medicines to prevent, stop or reverse disorders related to aging, such as osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, glaucoma and kidney disease. Its technology is based on eliminating cells that become senescent and stop dividing, instead altering their metabolism and interactions.
The series B round was disclosed alongside news that Keith Leonard, Unity’s executive chairman, would take the CEO position at the company while Ned David, its founder and former chief executive, would move to a president role in order to oversee its biology platform.
Leonard and David were co-founders in 2005 of Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, an aesthetic medicine developer that went public in 2012 before being acquired by pharmaceutical producer Allergan in November 2015 for $2.1bn. Arch Venture, which launched Unity in February this year, had been an investor in Kythera since its 2006 series B round.
Mayo Clinic and WuXi PharmaTech contributed part of the series A capital that launched Unity, as did Venrock, and the model, whereby Arch launches startups with scientists and entrepreneurs while attracting corporates for early-stage funding, is not new for the firm. In fact, Unity raised the funding as two more companies were launched by Arch with corporate partners in the past two weeks.
Arch launched neurobehavioural disorder treatment developer BlackThorn Therapeutics, leading its $40m series A round, which included healthcare group Johnson & Johnson’s CVC unit Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, before doing the same for genomic researcher Genomics Medicine Ireland a few days later with assistance from internet technology group Alphabet’s GV unit.
Prior to those rounds, Arch co-led a $95m series A round closed by oncology startup Carrick Therapeutics that included drug development partner Evotec and GV earlier this month, also as a founding director.
Although the partnership Mayo Clinic is relatively new for Arch, it has collaborated with WuXi PharmaTech on several series A investments, in startups including drug development and commercialisation company Hua Medicine, gene control regulator developer Syros Pharmaceuticals, and the cancer and metabolic disease-focused Petra Pharma.
The model is a compelling one for corporates, which can access an experienced partner, secure a strategic stake in promising companies at the outset and, hypothetically, get in position for a decent exit.
Much of the time, we talk about the secondary element of corporate venturing in terms of CVC investments in venture funds, but maintaining relationships with reliable venture firms is also important. In terms of a firm like Arch that also acts proactively in helping to launch startups, and which has recorded more than a dozen exits since the start of 2015, it may be the key to substantial returns.