BioWorld International Correspondent

DUBLIN, Ireland Enterprise Ireland, the government agency responsible for indigenous industrial development, wants to see 40 biotechnology start-ups emerge over the next five years.

The organization unveiled its long-awaited strategy for the sector on Monday, the centerpiece of which is a dedicated life sciences seed fund that has been established on a public-private partnership basis.

This vehicle, Dublin-based Seroba Ventures, already raised EUR15 million but is looking for another EUR10 million before first closing. Seroba is headed by Seamus O’Hara, formerly business development manager at BioResearch Ireland, a technology transfer organization within Enterprise Ireland; and Peter Sandys, previously managing director of corporate finance at the Irish subsidiary of ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam.

Enterprise Ireland has provided half of Seroba’s cash. The other investors include Elan Corp. plc, institutional backers KBC Asset Management and Friends First, all of Dublin, plus additional corporate and private investors. Although the Irish biotechnology investment scene was stagnant during 2001, there is no shortage of potential deals, Seamus O’Hara said. “We have more than 40 projects on our list at the moment,” he told BioWorld International.

The funds available for investment are modest. Seroba aims to act as a catalyst for Irish biotechnology by seeding seven to 10 start-ups and then attracting inward investors to participate in subsequent rounds. It is building relationships with international funds, and has appointed Jeremy Curnock Cook, executive chairman of London-based BioScience Managers Ltd. and former head of the Rothschild Bioscience Unit, to its investment committee.

Seroba has been a long time in the making. The name was first coined about four years ago, but it has taken the industry some time to convince policy makers to commit to the development of the indigenous biotechnology sector.

“There is no doubt we are late from a commercialization point of view in getting into the game,” said Gerard Murphy, the Enterprise Ireland director responsible for health care. “I think we have other strengths that will see us catch up very quickly,” he added, pointing to recent government backing for life sciences research and the ongoing efforts by IDA Ireland, the agency responsible for inward investment, to attract biotechnology manufacturing projects to the country.

In addition to backing Seroba, Enterprise Ireland offers technology companies equity investment from its own resources and additional mentoring and other soft support.

Murphy said the volume of potential start-up projects is high. “We have 10 in the pipeline at the moment,” he said. The agency also is negotiating with two overseas entrepreneurs, based in France and the U.S., about locating projects here. And it also aims to engage with Irish expatriates, particularly those working in the U.S. biotechnology industry. “We are open for business to anybody who wants to come back to Ireland,” Murphy said.