LONDON ¿ Two of the leading lights of U.K. biotechnology, Chris Evans and Jeremy Curnock Cook, will join forces in the creation of Merlin Biosciences, a venture capital and investment management group with investments in over 50 companies, and a total of #150 million (US$242 million) under management.

The Merlin Ventures Group, led by Evans, is joining with key members of the Rothschild Bioscience Unit, (RBU), led by Curnock Cook. The resulting group, Merlin Biosciences, will have a team of 20 life-science specialists and will operate worldwide. It will, subject to regulatory approvals, be appointed as manager of the International Biotechnology Trust (IBT). In addition to IBT, currently managed by RBU, it will advise the Merlin Fund and Reabourne Merlin Life Science Investment Trust plc, currently advised by Merlin Ventures. It is also intended that it will take on the Australian Bioscience Trust, and the proposed Canadian Bioscience Trust. Evans will be chairman and Curnock Cook will serve as CEO. Peter Keen, co-founder of Merlin Ventures, will retain his position of managing director.

The move follows the decision of Rothschild Asset Management (RAM), owners of RBU, to withdraw from U.K. biotechnology after the collapse of merger discussions between IBT Trust plc and Biotechnology Investments Ltd. (BIL), both of which were managed by RAM.

Commenting on the formation of Merlin Biosciences, Evans said, ¿With the skill set and experience we now have in place, I am confident that we have the ability to create shareholder value from the IBT portfolio and from the global bioscience sector. It is our firm belief that Merlin Bioscience¿s critical mass and hands-on approach will be key to creating and securing this value.¿

In March, Merlin Ventures announced plans to set up what it claims will be the largest biosciences fund in Europe, the Merlin Healthcare Fund, raising up to #100 million, to help plug the equity gap in U.K. and European biotechnology. According to Evans, there has been a rapid expansion in funding for start-ups, which now needs to be matched by funding for companies of between two and three years.

Merlin Healthcare will be launched in the third quarter of 1999, and expects to make its first investment before the year¿s end.

Until now, Merlin has concentrated on investing in start-ups. Through IBT, Curnock Cook and his team have concentrated on later stage investments. He said the two teams ¿complement each other extremely well. The RBU team has considerable experience internationally, and Merlin Ventures holds a unique position in the U.K. We have both independently identified opportunities in Europe, and the creation of Merlin Bioscience will now allow us to pursue these together with an approach and expertise that few will be able to match.¿ n