ExpoValley & Startups – Paris will foster the growth of Italian biotech companies
Biovelocità enters the scene through Sofinnova

Never was a time so propitious. Last week, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi aired the idea of an Italian Silicon Valley on the site of EXPO Milan, with the support of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa. And today Sofinnova, a French venture capital fund in which the CDP [the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti – Deposits and Loans Fund] in turn has a stake, will announce the launch of Biovelocità: the first biotechnology business accelerator in Italy.

The news is significant for two reasons. First: the French want to invest to build a true hub for innovative medical biotechnology businesses in Italy. And second: it fills a gap.

Until now, there was no linkage between the moment of an invention, when a scientist makes a discovery, and that of industrialisation, when the discovery is planned, funded and becomes part of a company. Now that linkage exists and is supported by two managers: Silvano Spinelli and the oncologist Gabriella Camboni. The two are the co-founders of Novuspharma, one of the first companies listed on the Nuovo Mercato in 2000, and EOS, which was sold to Clovis in 2012 for 470 million dollars.

Spinelli is chair of Biovelocità, and Camboni the chief executive officer. Graziano Seghezzi of Sofinnova will be making the investment. The mission is to keep the three key players – scientists, entrepreneurs and investors – together to foster the birth of “pioneering companies”: start-ups that until now were invisible to venture capital.

“We believe we’re some of the most active operators on the international biotech market”, says Seghezzi. “In the last 15 years we’ve invested 50 million in Italy, in five companies [ed’s note: including Novuspharma and EOS]. We take first-rate scientists and match them with successful managers and entrepreneurs”. Spinelli continues, “Truly significant companies can be created this way. It’s a dream come true for me. Italy has a strong record in scientific output, but until now this has rarely translated into business”.

Biovelocità is based in Milan. In addition to Sofinnova, its shareholders include private investors brought in by Banor SIM. Its initial funding amounts to six million, to be delivered next year; and that amount could rise to 20 million in 18 months. Or even more, if other investors are found. Ten or so projects are under study, a couple of them at an advanced stage, with agreements for licensing options expected to be concluded in two–three months. One of these focuses on a genetic disease of the central nervous system which is expected to be of interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

Here’s how it works. Spinelli and Camboni take early-stage projects, test them, and construct a sort of business plan around them. Then they take the projects to the point where they can become independent companies that will be granted a license to develop the molecule. The scientific pool on which Biovelocità draws at present consists of three institutes, Firc Institute of Molecular Oncology (Italian initials IFOM), the European Institute of Oncology (Italian initials IEO) and the Monzino Cardiology Centre. Their patents are handled by TTFactor, with which Biovelocità has entered into its first agreement. The aim is to bring others in to close the start-up gap between Italy and other companies, a gap that was underscored recently by the Italian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AIFI) and Fondo italiano d’investimento (FII). “We know the IIT in Genoa very well, indeed we’re working with them”, says Seghezzi. A word to the wise…

Original article in Italian language, available here: Corriere Economia, November 16, 2015.


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