LONDON _ Britain's fledgling biotechnology industry is short onfundraising experience and bringing companies to the market. In fact,only a dozen or so British companies have gone public, and a handfulof those raised money in the U.S."There is a limited amount of experience here," said Louis Da Gama,director of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), which represents biotechcompanies in the U.K.To help fill the knowledge gap, the BIA has signed up sponsors for anumber of new initiatives. "The big thing that we wanted to do was togive our members an opportunity to learn from people who havealready done it," he said.The first group of sponsors includes several companies that havehelped to bring biotech companies to the market both in the U.K. andthe U.S. The sponsors, who are providing a total package worth aroundL70,000 ($100,000) includes accountants and management consultantsCoopers & Lybrand, of Cambridge, England, and the internationalinsurance brokering and risk consulting group Minet. The deal alsobrings in a number of law firms including Slaughter and May, one ofthe largest companies of corporate finance and patent lawyers in theU.K.Britain's biotechnology industry "could lead to a substantial part ofBritain's growth in the next 15 or 20 years," said Nigel Boardman, ofSlaughter and May, "but there is a problem with funding in the shortterm." The issue of intellectual property rights "also needs properskills," adds Boardman.The company plans to give the BIA L12,000 ($18,000) for unspecifiedactivities. In return, said Boardman, the contribution "gives us aplatform to help shape the debates in the industry." More important, hesaid, "what we hope to get out of it is first of all a slightly higherprofile in the industry." With mostly large clients, Slaughter and Maymight not be a natural choice for small biotech start-ups. "We want toshow that we are interested in all the companies in the industry, even ifthey are quite small."In working with these sponsors, the BIA plans to organize a series ofbusiness seminars and conferences addressing key issues facing thebiotech sector in the U.K. The sponsorship arrangement is designed togive the association a closer relationship with people who can help witheducational activities that would benefit the BIA's members. Da Gamatold BioWorld Today that he sees the concept as "basically a teach-in."Can we teach some of our companies things that will help them moveto the marketplace faster?"For example, a number of British biotech companies have alreadyraised funding in the U.S. One sponsor of the BIA's activities isBrobeck Hale and Dorr International, a joint venture between two largeU.S. law firms that represent a number of biotech companies in theU.S.The idea for the sponsorship came from the BIA's board, which ischaired by Keith McCullagh, CEO of British Biotechnology Group.McCullagh said of the arrangement: "We welcome this sponsorshipwhich will provide the association with both invaluable expertise andadditional financial support, and will enable the BIA to enhance itsmission of promoting a positive climate for the growth of the U.K.bioscience sector."Da Gama sees the sponsors' willingness to support the BIA as a"ratification that they believe in biotech in the U.K. I am very pleasedby the sponsorship. It shows that there is a definite faith in biotechopportunities in the U.K."The BIA is looking for sponsors from other areas of the financecommunity. For example, Da Gama would like to find sponsors fromthe investment banking sector "to help members with their initialpublic offerings and private placements." n
-- Michael Kenward Special to BioWorld Today
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