VC firm GV (née Google Ventures) has made another investment in Europe — its seventh — leading a $21 million Series B round for epigenetic sequencing tech company and Cambridge University spin-out, Cambridge Epigenetix.
The U.K.-based bioscience company makes DNA modification analysis tools for epigenetics researchers — an emerging field of study which looks at how environmental factors and other dynamic/behavioral elements can have a heritable impact, based on how they regulate gene expression rather than changing the underlying DNA.
As well as GV, Cambridge Epigenetix said the Series B round entailed “significant participation” from Sequoia Capital. Current investors New Science Ventures, Syncona Partners and Cambridge University also participated. And as part of the round GV general partner Tom Hulme has joined the board.
While on the surface the Cambridge Epigenetix investment might appear a little different to the handful of other investments GV has made in Europe to date — which include investing in a music licensing platform, a members-only travel startup, an email marketing business and a personalized book publisher — the firm confirmed to TechCrunch there is no repositioning of its investment strategy going on here, either in Europe or globally.
“Life Science has been a large area of investment for us for the past few years globally, comprising ~30% of our investment dollars. We will continue to invest across Tech and Life Science both in Europe and the US,” said GV general partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan.
In Europe, GV has previously invested in the Oxford Science Innovation Fund, which is looking to back high tech business spinning out of Oxford University in the UK — based on research from the Mathematical, Physical, Life Sciences and Medical Sciences divisions. So there is also some past bioscience-related investment to point to coming out of GV’s European office specifically.
For its part, GV’s financier Alphabet (né Google) has long had multiple health-focused research interests — from moonshots like its project to hack death (Calico) to operating a dedicated Life Sciences division (né Google Life Sciences; now called Verily) which, since 2012, has worked on various bioscience/tech projects such as synthetic skin or a contact lens to track glucose levels for diabetes sufferers.
Verily’s questioning mission statement is: “How can we use technology to create a true picture of human health?” The promise of epigenetics might well be an answer to that query — if it leads scientists to gain a better understanding of the impact of environmental factors such as stress, diet and toxins on long term human health.
And from there you could envisage an era of meaningful quantified health tracking being ushered in — rather than the era of imperfect, and imperfectly understood, data that current wearables and sensors generate. Although, while such developments might obviously intersect with Alphabet’s bioscience data interests, GV maintains it operates independently of Google/Alphabet, making its own financially driven investment decisions despite the latter being its source of funding.
Commenting on the Series B investment in a statement, Cambridge Epigenetix’s CEO Dr Geoff Smith flagged up what he described as its new investors “unparalleled expertise in building data-driven businesses of substantial value”. And what’s better than a data-driven business? A business driven by really accurate data, of course…
“We’ve seen how the commercialization of genome sequencing has created incredible opportunities to improve human health, and now the epigenome holds similar potential,” added GV’s Hulme in a supporting statement. “Cambridge Epigenetix is one of the few teams on the planet with the skills and experience to break new ground here, and we look forward to supporting them on that journey.”
The investment is the first since GV restructured its European arm last December, switching from having a separate European fund to operating all its investments from a single global pot, while still retaining its London office and locally based partners.
Even before this change investments being made by GV’s Europe office had still required sign off from the US. And reports suggested the prior structure led to stalled deals — as of the end of last year GV had made only six investment in Europe, despite opening its London office back in July 2014 (while the global fund has made more than 300 investments in total since being founded in 2009). So switching to a pooled global fund arguably simplifies both the investment and incentivization structure for GV and its partners. But it remains to be seen whether the pace of GV’s investments in Europe will pick up from here on in.