Wellcome Trust starts venture capital firm

Wellcome Trust, London, launched Syncona Partners, a venture capital firm to invest in health-care companies, the trust announced Thursday.

Chris Hollowood, partner at Syncona, said in a telephone interview Wellcome Trust's initial commitment 200 million ($323 million) will be invested in early- and late-stage health-care companies globally. Investments will likely range between 1 million and 20 million per company, he added.

“This is an initiative that The Wellcome Trust has been thinking about for some time,” Mr. Hollowood said. According to the endowment's annual report for the year ended Sept. 30, about 8% of the total assets were invested in venture capital funds, which returned 9% on an annualized basis over the past five years. The 15.4 billion Wellcome Trust is Britain's largest endowment by assets.

One key difference in the way Syncona will approach venture capital investments compared to the typical fund is “flexibility in the time frame,” Mr. Hollowood said. Most venture capital funds generally have an average 10-year time horizon, whereas Syncona “can hold a company and never sell it.”

“We can just grow the value (of the company) to the point at which we choose rather than be forced by the fund's structure to sell” at a time that's not optimal, Mr. Hollowood added. “This is one of the bigger problems (of a typical venture capital fund) that we're in a position to address.”

Syncona made its first investment late last year in Cambridge EpiGenetix, a biosciences company that provides reagents and processes in DNA sequencing platforms. Mr. Hollowood declined to specify the amount invested.