Amplitude raises $50M to fuel ‘emerging’ Canadian biotech field
Nine months and an IPO since they spun out the Business Development Bank of Canada’s healthcare arm into its own VC, the investors behind Amplitude have raised another $50 million to pour into Canada’s nascent biotech sector.
The new round, part of the CAD $200 million the firm is trying to raise for its first fund, will go primarily toward two areas: what founders Jean-François Pariseau and Dion Madsen see as an “emerging” targeted and cell therapy field in Vancouver and an emerging artificial intelligence field in Montreal. Similar to some of the bigger name VCs to their south, the partners will try to find promising science out of academic and innovation centers in the two metro areas, package them with some complementary and de-risking intellectual property and some new talent, and spin out biotechs.
”There are clusters emerging in Canada around targeted and cellular therapy in Vancouver and around AI in Toronto or Montreal, and those would be areas where we would” invest, Madsen told Endpoints News. “Typically, we’re looking for really significant innovations.”
Around 30% of the fund will also go to later-stage medtech companies.
As proof for the model, Amplitude is now touting the success of the synthetic lethality company Repare Therapeutics, which in June raised $220 million in one of the largest IPOs in Canadian biotech history. It’s a bit of a bold claim, though, given that Amplitude — then still under the auspices of the BDAC — was just one of several investors in the Versant-launched company’s Series B last year, and that the biotech’s public offering came as part of an unprecedented biotech stock market boom.
Still, for Madsen and Pariseau, it’s validation that there is billion-dollar science to be found in Canada for those who know how to build it.
Perhaps the most prominent example of that has come in the past few months in the form of a different company, AbCellera. Long a little-known player that helped governments, biotechs and Big Pharma build antibodies, the company emerged at the front of the Covid-19 treatment hunt after they signed a partnership with Eli Lilly in March to develop neutralizing antibodies for the coronavirus. They later emerged as the first company to bring a neutralizing antibody into the clinic, and they secured a $105 million Series B from a handful of big name investors on the way.
Madsen said they had been watching AbCellera since 2013, shortly after its launch, encouraging them to develop their own compounds. They put in offers for both last year’s Series A, but they were still in formation at the time and AbCellera took an offer from DCVC. They were one of many to put in an offer for the Series B.
”We were outbid,” he said.
When it comes to AI companies, the firm will focus on those that look a bit more like the biotechs that have their own wet labs and development pipelines, such as Daphne Koller’s Insitro, than the ones that just use advance algorithms to search out molecules, such as Atomwise. The first example of that, Madsen said, was Deep Genomics. They joined a $40 million Series B for the biotech in January.
“I think AI is becoming more and more generative as a technology, and more widely used. To me, it’s kind of the next evolution,” Pariseau told Endpoints. “And it’s also cheaper.”