Korean VC firms invest in UK drug developer, first after Brexit

  • 2016-10-17

Celleron Therapeutics Ltd., a cancer treatment developer founded by Oxford University professors, is poised to attract $26 million from South Korean and Chinese investors to fund phase II clinical trial of a personalized anti-cancer drug, according to investment banking sources on Oct. 13.

The prospective joint investment will be the first such case for South Korean venture capital firms in Britain, since the U.K. vote to leave the European Union. It also comes after the pound tumbled almost 20% against the Korean won since the Brexit decision.

In exchange for fresh capital, the U.K.-based medicine company will offer minority stakes to those Asian investors, which include five venture capital firms and an unidentified South Korean pharmaceutical company.

Of the venture capital firms from South Korea and China, Korea Investment Partners Co. Ltd., a venture capital unit of Korea Investment Holding Co. Ltd., and NHN Investment Co. Ltd., have recently agreed to commit a total of $7 million to Celleron. The South Korean medicine company has also agreed to invest $2 million in the UK firm. They had taken about a half year to negotiate the deal.

Further, two other South Korean venture capital firms and a Chinese investor are in talks to invest a combined $17 million in Celleron. No further details are available about those investors.

Celleron, set up in 2005, is developing a personalized cancer treatment to tackle a wide range of late-stage cancers. The cancer treatment under development has passed the first human clinical trial.

After phase II trial, the South Korean pharmaceutical firm would secure the sales license in east Asian markets. For the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world, Celleron will sell the sales license to a multinational medicine company. The U.K. firm is expected to use South Korean hospitals for the second human trial.

“British universities have qualified research staff in the biotechnology industry, and early-stage investments are taking place actively out there,” a South Korean venture capital source told the Korea Economic Daily. “After the Brexit, biotechnology companies in the U.K. will see a rise in capital inflows from domestic venture capital firms.”

By Taeho Kim and Donghun Lee

highkick@hankyung.com

<Edited by Yeonhee Kim>