Apr 21, 2020 - Economy

The legacy of Kleiner Perkins' 2006 pandemic fund

Illustration of a hand on a syringe with a dollar bill inside

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Fourteen years ago, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins raised $200 million for a fund dedicated to "worldwide pandemic preparedness and global health, with a focus on surveillance and detection, diagnostics, vaccines and drugs.”

Why it matters: Several companies from that portfolio are now part of the fight against COVID-19, and the fund's partners played a part in creating a government agency called BARDA that's been helping to fund test and vaccine development efforts for the coronavirus.

Kleiner Perkins never raised a second pandemic fund, primarily because it made a broader decision to stop raising small specialized funds altogether, and it has since lost all of its healthcare-focused partners, including Beth Seidenberg, Tom Monath, Dana Mead, and Brook Byers (who remains an adviser). But the effort's legacy persists...

1. BioCryst Pharmaceuticals: On April 9 launched an NIH-funded clinical trial for the effects of antiviral drug galidesivir for patients with COVID-19.

  • In 2009, one of the company's drugs received U.S. emergency approval for treating swine flu.
  • KPCB first invested via a PIPE in 2007.

2. Breathe Technologies: Current parent company Hill-Rom Holdings in late March announced plans to ramp up production of a portable ventilator originally developed by Breathe.

  • KPCB led Breathe's Series B round in 2008. The company was acquired last year by Hill-Rom for $128 million.

3. Novavax: The company has identified a vaccine candidate for COVID-19, and plans to launch clinical trials next month.

  • KPCB first invested via a PIPE in 2006.
  • Current BARDA director Rick Bright was head of R&D for Novavax's global influenza program between 2006 and 2008.
  • The company's Ebola vaccine candidate failed Phase III clinical trials late last year, crushing its stock price and forcing it into a reverse stock split to avoid de-listing from the Nasdaq.

4. Juvaris BioTherapeutics: The company raised Series A money from KPCB in 2008, and was later acquired by Colby Pharma. But its co-founders in 2013 joined back up to launch SutroVax, which is working on a pneumonia vaccine.

  • As we recently wrote: SutroVax's lead candidate is a more-encompassing alternative to Pfizer's Prevnar 13, a $6 billion per-year vaccine that reportedly is seeing a prescription bump from those worried about the coronavirus. Prevnar won't prevent someone from being infected, but some believe that it could help ward off subsequent pneumonia.

5. BARDA: This is the U.S. agency formed in 2006 to develop and buy drugs for public health medical emergencies, including pandemics and bioterrorism. As former KPCB partner Beth Seidenberg once told me:

“I was in D.C. one or two times per month talking to Congressional staffers, so that there could be an agency that would have the authority to take a systematic approach to looking at vaccines and diagnostics… A big part of it was getting the model right, so we tried to model it after DARPA [an R&D unit of the U.S. Department of Defense], which had managed to really embrace the idea of a public/private partnership."

BARDA recently awarded $483 million to Moderna, to further its first-in-clinic work on an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, among its many other related efforts.

The bottom line: Silicon Valley is now awash in worthy efforts to combat the coronavirus, and there seems to be renewed interest in "hard" life sciences investment. But at least one firm was ahead of the curve, even if it didn't persist.

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