BioWorld International Correspondent

BioIndustry Park Canavese obtained assistance from three international biotechnology venture capital funds in selecting projects for a new initiative that aims to kick-start the formation of biotechnology start-ups in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy.

Merlin Biosciences, Index Ventures and Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners are all participating, which should lead to the formation of a clutch of new ventures before the end of the year.

"The target is to have at least five companies - our hope is to have at least nine," said Fabrizio Conicella, project manager at BioIndustry Park Canavese, which is located near Turin. A call for proposals will close in October, and the successful entrants will be picked within two months.

Participants in the scheme, which is called Discovery, will gain access to bioincubator facilities, seed funding, mentoring and management training, and access to expertise and facilities available in BioIndustry Park Canavese. The Piedmont Regional Authority is backing the initiative, along with a €4 million investment fund that has been established through the participation of local entrepreneurs and high-net-worth individuals. The aim, Conicella said, is to fund the early development of companies, to the point that they are ready either to take projects into the clinic, to license them out or to seek additional investment.

The scheme is national in scope rather than regional. Already, the project promoters have made presentations in 15 universities across Italy, Conicella said, and have made contact with potential participants in Naples and in Padua.

The initiative represents an effort to counter Italy's relatively poor performance to date in establishing biotechnology start-ups.

"We have two big problems," Conicella told BioWorld International. "The first is the culture inside the universities." Although that situation is improving, he said, traditionally, they have been far removed from industry. "The second problem is money. In Italy, we do not have specialist venture capital funds."

Conicella cited research conducted by Serono Group, of Geneva, prior to its establishment of a drug delivery lab at Canavese. The research indicated that the total outlay on hiring and supporting a researcher with postdoctoral experience amounts to €190,000 annually in Italy. The equivalent costs in Boston, the UK and Switzerland are $290,000, €270,000, and €250,000, respectively, Conicella said.

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