BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Jeremy Curnock Cook, one of the leading figures in UK biotechnology investment, is making a comeback, launching a new €150 million fund to invest in mid-stage life science companies in Europe.

The fund will be run by BioScience Managers Ltd. (BML), formed by Curnock Cook in 2001, after his forced resignation from Rothschild Asset Management (RAM), where he was head of the life sciences private equity team and director of International Biotechnology Trust.

Curnock Cook told BioWorld International, "We are targeting mid-stage investments in Europe - companies one to five years from their foundation that have moved the technology through to preclinical. There is now an equity gap here; the venture community will have put in one, two or three rounds expecting an initial public offering, but currently this is no longer an option."

Curnock Cook expects to pull in two or three times the value of the BML fund from nonspecialist funds. "They will want to invest with us, because of our experience through Rothschild," he said, adding that it will be sufficient to invest in about 20 companies. "We can play above our weight because we will get a following from nonspecialist players."

The fund will use its clout to encourage consolidation, which Curnock Cook said "is very much part of the picture" of extracting value from the sector.

BML also is planning to enter the early stage venture capital arena in the UK. "With capital markets vacating the sector en masse, we also see a real opportunity to invest at the very early stage of the company life cycle and to leverage our 20 years of company-building experience and track record," Curnock Cook said.

Despite venturing back into fund management, Curnock Cook is not optimistic about the public markets. "I'm saying to people, 2003 and 2004 are years we have to have get through. But the markets probably will open in 2005. In the meantime, we will be looking to large pharma to provide exit routes."

BML was formed in 2001 as a corporate advisory boutique, but it has always been Curnock Cook's ambition to return to fund management. "Importantly, our advisory work helped us stay in the traffic of the market and allowed us to time our entry into the fund management business," he said. Most recently BML has advised on the merger of two Canadian biotechs and the refinancing of a company in the U.S.

Curnock Cook left RAM in 2000 after the arbitrageur Millennium Partners LP, of New York, a shareholder in IBT, tabled a resolution calling for his removal. Millennium raised questions about share options granted to Curnock Cook as a nonexecutive director of companies in which IBT had invested.