Ori Biotech – Fundraising & Growth
Jason Foster is an investor in Ori Biotech and became its CEO in 2019. As CEO he has been instrumental in helping the company to raise the capital it needs to achieve its vision.
Ori Biotech was founded in 2015 by Chris Mason and Farlan Veraitch, two professors at University College London (UCL) and internationally recognised experts in Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) manufacturing. Currently, this new generation of medical treatments can be extremely expensive and Ori Biotech’s mission is to enable widespread access to life saving cell and gene therapies.
In CGT the starting material for the therapeutic is human (patient or donor) cells. These are harvested, frozen and transported to a central location where they are processed for several weeks. When that is over they are frozen again and shipped back to the patient to be re-infused.
This process is expensive, manual,highly variable and often takes over 3 weeks, resulting in a therapy cost of between $500,000 and $2 million per patient. This high cost makes it inaccessible for the majority of patients who might benefit from CGT as a potential cure for cancer and other rare diseases.
Ori Biotech’s solution is the development of a CGT platform that closes, automates and standardises the manufacturing of cell and gene therapy for therapy developers, CDMOs and Academic Medical Centers. It moves treatments seamlessly from the pre-clinical process through the clinic to commercial scale. This then makes it possible to create a wider market by expanding access for patients .
When did you get involved in Ori Biotech ?
I first met Ori Biotech in 2018 when I was investing full-time, alongside some partner VC funds. It was clear that they had a lot of the scientific elements in place, especially in-depth CGT expertise. Like many companies with academic and scientific founders, they did not have much experience in commercialisation, fundraising or business building. As I felt I could help them in these areas, we decided to join forces and I would help them raise funding for their Seed round.
How did you go about raising the necessary funding?
I took them to see many of my VC/Investor contacts in London, which then helped to form a syndicate for seed investment of $10 million (£7M). This closed in August 2019 and importantly enabled one of the co-founders to join the company full-time to work full-time on developing the proprietary Ori manufacturing technology platform.
To develop the platform further there was a $30 million Series A round which was led by Northpond Ventures with the support of Octopus Ventures and Ori’s existing institutional investors, Amadeus Capital Partners, Delin Ventures and Kindred Capital.
What is Finerva’s role in supporting Ori Biotech?
Adam Brodie and the Finerva team have helped several companies I’ve invested in. They have a breadth of expertise around all the things that concern founders: start-up financing, corporate structures, SEIS/ EIS, EMI options, R&D Tax Credits etc. There are not a lot of finance firms that truly understand the start-up ecosystem, so having their expertise to support founders and Boards is a huge help.
They’ve done whatever you need to do for your company 100s of times before and they know things you should do that you haven’t even thought about yet. It means they can provide helpful insights and make sure we stay up to date with the latest. Knowing that someone is available at the weekend and or at 11 p.m. at night if needed is also massively beneficial. Adam and the team are founder themselves so they understand what it is like to start a company.
What is the most challenging aspect of financing an early stage company?
There are three things:
- Get the story right. Understand the market you are in and know how to communicate the opportunity properly to investors
- Target the right investors. Not all startup investors are the same. They often invest in different industries or different stages. Make sure you do your research. So try to get as much advice as you can from friendly VCs before wasting time chasing the wrong investors. Otherwise you are wasting not just your own time but the investors’.
- Fundraising is a full time job so be sure you have the time and support in place so you can focus on it.
Do you have an exit strategy?
Companies always have to think of the exit scenarios. Whether it comes at the right time or not is a different matter.
For Ori Biotech it might be a strategic trade sale, to develop the platform with a PE funder interested in building a platform technology company or maybe an IPO or a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company).
The clock is ticking on life sciences. 10s of billions of dollars are waiting to be deployed over the next couple of years so it could even be a combination of several of those options. That’s how we’re thinking about the exit right now.
Ultimately, success for us is accomplishing our mission to enable widespread patient access to life saving cell and gene therapies.
For now our focus is to launch a first generation platform in H2 2022. Series A money raised in 2020 will get us all the way to creating an MVP that therapy developers can use. After that, we will be raising launch capital to fund the business through commercialisation and beyond.