One of Canada’s most successful biotechnology venture capital groups has drawn rare domestic institutional backing from outside Quebec and recruited one of the country’s pioneering investors in the space, further signs of the thriving sector’s resurgence.
Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity) and the Ontario government’s Ontario Capital Growth Corp. have invested in Amplitude Venture Capital’s inaugural fund, which has now raised more than three-quarters of its $200-million goal.
The new investment is significant as all of the large domestic institutional funders of Canadian biotechs and venture capital firms – including Amplitude’s key backers to date – are based in Quebec, including the Fonds de solidarité FTQ, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, the Quebec government and fund-of-funds manager Teralys Capital.
The lack of institutional interest in the space in the rest of Canada has long been a sore point for the sector, which has been on a solid run of late, including a string of large-scale financings and initial public offerings by Canadian firms on Nasdaq. (The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board made one biotech investment this year in Canada, but it was part of a global mandate.)
“Canada is recognized globally for high quality life science and health care solutions,” said Vancity interim chief executive Christine Bergeron. “We wanted to support that” with a $5-million commitment from Vancity’s $70-million “impact investment” portfolio, which backs funds across a range of areas that include Indigenous businesses, social enterprises and health and wellness startups, and has made one previous biotech investment. “Amplitude has a very strong track record,” she said.
Amplitude officially launched last year after being spun out of the Business Development Bank of Canada, led by fund managers Jean-François Pariseau and Dion Madsen. At BDC, they oversaw one of the most successful venture funds in Canada, netting a profit of more than $110-million on an investment of $20-million in Montreal-based Clementia Pharmaceuticals after its 2017 IPO and 2019 sale. Several other companies backed by the team went public in the U.S., including Zymeworks Inc. and Repare Therapeutics.
The team set out to raise at least $150-million from Canadian sources – which it has now done – before tapping international investors for the balance. Mr. Madsen said “there’s an 80-per-cent chance we’ll get at least another $10-million from additional Canadian investors,” including a fund of funds that backs venture capital funds, a pension fund or a wealthy family.
Amplitude is also announcing Tuesday that Nancy Harrison, who led biotech investing for the now-defunct Vancouver-based Ventures West from 1993 to 2007, has joined Amplitude as a venture partner. She will recommend investments and serve as a mentor and director for companies Amplitude backs.
“It’s an excellent time to be an investor [in biotech] … and deploying capital to build world class companies in Canada,” said Ms. Harrison, who spent most of the past 13 years leading depression treatment developer MSI Methylation Sciences Inc. “We all have a bigger goal of creating anchor companies and really creating that critical mass [in Canada] and I see that happening.”
Ms. Harrison is “among the best biotech investors I’ve ever known and it’s great to see her back after a long stint as a corporate leader,” said Lloyd Segal, CEO of Repare, a Montreal-based cancer treatment developer that went public last month and raised funds from Ms. Harrison for an earlier startup he led when she was at Ventures West. “She’ll be a phenomenal addition to the Amplitude team.”
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