New academic fund to support research startups with more than 45 million euros

i&i Bio - opening press release

23 September 2021

In September 2021, activities commenced at the i&i Biotech Fund (i&i Bio), which specializes in investments in academic spinoffs devoted to drug discovery, diagnostics, and medical devices, among other areas. The new fund was established in cooperation with the European Investment Fund (EIF) and i&i Prague, a subsidiary of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague). Currently in preparation to join the fund is Charles University Innovation Prague (CUIP), a subsidiary of Charles University. This is the very first project of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe, a region that until now has lacked this type of financing opportunity.

At present, the fund manages more than 45 million EUR (~1.1 billion CZK). It plans to divide the money among more than 20 innovative projects over the next five years, and new investors can increase the total amount even further. The investment strategy of the fund targets the area of natural sciences with special focus on drug discovery, innovative diagnostics, medical devices, and other biotechnologies. Financing is intended for Czech entities, however, other European projects may also be eligible.

In our region, it’ll now be possible to support more challenging projects focusing, for example, on the development of novel drugs and diagnostic methods, which until now had had great difficulty looking for investors.

Jaromír Zahrádka

i&i Bio director and one of the founders of i&i Prague

“By launching the new fund, we’ve gained the opportunity to finance the most promising technologies much more effectively and often without having to spend considerable time looking for other coinvestors,” says Jaromír Zahrádka, the fund’s director and one of the founders of i&i Prague. “In our region, it’ll now be possible to support more challenging projects focusing, for example, on the development of novel drugs and diagnostic methods, which until now had had great difficulty looking for investors,” adds Zahrádka.

 

The newly established fund is an extension of the successful pursuits of i&i Prague, a company that supports the transfer of new technologies from the laboratory to practice. It focuses on the areas of drugs and diagnostic methods, among others, and to date its activities have supported the creation and development of fifteen spinoffs from five countries. Currently, i&i Prague holds an interest in ten of them and has invested more 70 million CZK. In its first four years, i&i Prague also helped other academic institutions sell at least ten licenses to entities around the world. Following the establishment of the new fund, i&i Prague will continue to provide support for the creation and development of biotechnology spinoffs, but funding will now come from i&i Bio.

Press conference 23 September 2021
Press conference 23 September 2021

From the left: Martin Fusek, director of IOCB TECH; Petr Očko, deputy minister of industry and trade; Eva Zažímalová, president of the Czech Academy of Sciences; Jaromír Zahrádka, director of i&i Biotech Fund; Otomar Sláma, director of CUIP (Photo: Michal Novotný)

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Press conference 23 September 2021
Press conference 23 September 2021

Press conference on the establishing of i&i Biotech Fund (Photo: Michal Novotný)

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Press conference 23 September 2021
Press conference 23 September 2021

Jaromír Zahrádka, director of i&i Biotech Fund (Photo: Michal Novotný)

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Press conference 23 September 2021
Press conference 23 September 2021

From the left: Martin Fusek, director of IOCB TECH; Petr Očko, deputy minister of industry and trade; Eva Zažímalová, president of the Czech Academy of Sciences; Jaromír Zahrádka, director of i&i Biotech Fund; Otomar Sláma, director of CUIP (Photo: Michal Novotný)

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Money from the fund is primarily intended for support of discoveries that have already been validated in the laboratory but have yet to set off down the path to development for commercial use. That is the responsibility of the spinoffs, companies that help take a discovery from the lab to practice. The fund is prepared to invest an average of 2 million EUR (more than 50 million CZK) in a specific project, but in exceptional cases the amount may grow to as much as 4.5 million EUR for a single project. The fund’s main investors thus far are the EIF and i&i Prague.

“Czech science is proud of outstanding basic research in a number of fields, but it can’t get by without the active transfer of results to practice. We know it pays off thanks to the extraordinary example of Antonín Holý and the company Gilead Sciences, whose drugs changed the treatment of AIDS throughout the world, saved millions of patients, and not only turned a small business into one of the biggest pharma companies in the world but also transformed our institute into a thriving research center,” explains IOCB Prague director Zdeněk Hostomský. In speaking of the impetus behind the fund, he says: “If we want to have more stories like that, we must constantly develop tools to promote tech transfer and facilitate the founding of new companies capable of seeing the development of groundbreaking discoveries and technologies through to completion and making headway in competitive international markets. That’s something our institute has been working on for a long time, and by establishing this fund we want to motivate others to do the same.”

If we want to have more stories like that [as of Antonín Holý and Gilead Sciences], we must constantly develop tools to promote tech transfer and facilitate the founding of new companies capable of seeing the development of groundbreaking discoveries and technologies through to completion and making headway in competitive international markets.

 Zdeněk Hostomský

IOCB Prague director

Up to 60 million euros for innovative projects

In the coming months, other private investors are planning to join the fund who can increase its total capital to some 50 or 60 million EUR. One of the first to do so will be Charles University. “Charles University is the first university in the Czech Republic to engage in this type of cooperation with the European Investment Fund. The university is represented by its subsidiary company CUIP, which is responsible for managing the technology transfer portfolio as well as the establishment of and investment in startups. The synergy of this joint venture gives researchers at the university the opportunity to secure financing for the development of innovative technologies and thus build on their collaboration with the Czech Academy of Sciences, which is an important partner for the university,” says Tomáš Zima, rector of Charles University.

“In the Czech Republic, there’s still a shortage of investment sources, and this is a vehicle that can help get the top technologies all the way to patients. The fact that the European Investment Fund has chosen an institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences for cooperation shows that for some time now the quality of our research has been catching up with the most advanced countries in Europe, and of course we’re very happy about that,” says Eva Zažímalová, president of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

I am very pleased that European Commission is backing the newly established fund i&i Bio showing the EU commitment in science innovation across Europe.

Marija Gabriel
European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

“This financing is an important step towards strengthening Europe’s biomedical research and seeking new competencies in health. The i&i Biotech Fund is accelerating the proof-of-concept stage of projects in the fields of Medtech, Diagnostics and Drug discovery. I am therefore very pleased that European Commission is backing the newly established fund i&i Bio showing the EU commitment in science innovation across Europe,” says Marija Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

With support from the EIF, a number of distinguished European research institutions have already established their own funds. Among them are the VIB (Belgium), KU Leuven (Belgium), Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg (Sweden), The University of Manchester (Great Britain), and the Karolinska Institute in Solna (Sweden). In terms of Central and Eastern Europe, however, the formation of i&i Bio is a unique occurrence, one that affirms the excellence and remarkable commercial potential of Czech science and research and firmly establishes IOCB Prague, the Czech Academy of Sciences, and Charles University as important pioneers responding to European and global trends.

“At EIF, we are very proud of our latest investment and contribution to European research, innovation and competitiveness in the field of biomedicine. We are happy to support biomedical scientists in Central Europe commercialize their research, create new biomedical companies and products and ensure the entire humanity can benefit from their ground-breaking research. With our investment in I&I Biotech Fund we are investing in an improved quality of life thanks to scientific breakthroughs in biomedicine, but also in green, modern economy, job creation and global competitiveness of the European Union,” says Alain Godard, Chief Executive of the EIF.