Australia's Brandon Capital stakes a claim in Bay Area with new office

Melbourne-based venture capital fund Brandon Capital Partners has opened a Palo Alto office, hiring a veteran as a partner as part of its aim to bring promising Australian pharma and medical tech to the market.

J. Leighton Read was named as a venture partner and head of the Palo Alto office as part of Brandon's A$200 million ($139 million) Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF), the largest in Australia and among the top in Asia, according to a press release.

The fund was designed to take good ideas to the market and leverage massive pension funds in Australia into the process earlier.

Read is familiar with Silicon Valley and U.S. venture capital in the healthcare space, coming from a post as a managing member at Alloy Ventures and previously serving as chairman and CEO of Aviron, now with AstraZeneca's ($AZN) MedImmune unit.

Australia has been noted as a biotech prospect with R&D tax incentives in place and with former investment banker Malcolm Turnbull becoming prime minister late last year. Turnbull has cited biotech as a growth area for the country as a mining-led boom wanes and the policymakers look to transition the economy.

Chris Nave, managing director of Brandon Capital Partners

Chris Nave, managing director of Brandon Capital Partners, said in an interview with FiercePharmaAsia in April last year that the fund wants to get recognition for research and see it commercialized.

"We have seen great research efforts in Australia funded by the government and private investors, but not the crossover to translational and that is not because of money," Nave said. "There is no shortage of capital."

In the release, Nave said contacts in the U.S. were an important part of the decision to open a Palo Alto office, building on the plan to gain more interest in what Australia has to offer.

"A clear priority for our firm is to expand access for the MRCF network members, our Australian portfolio companies and entrepreneurs to the well-established life science ecosystem and talent pool in the San Francisco Bay area and U.S.," Nave said.

On a swing through Australia in June, Merck ($MRK) CEO Ken Frazier also noted that Australia does not always get full commercial value for the money it spends on medical-related research.

"Australia is a great generator of intellectual property," Frazier said, according to the Australian Financial Review. "It isn't a country that is taking advantage of all the great science that's done here. One has to ask oneself why it is you have so many patents being generated by fundamental scientific work being done in Australia, but not necessarily robust industry to capitalize on and commercialize those products. I would say a great part of that comes down to the policy environment. Tremendous basic scientific research is being done in Australia."

The MRCF joins over 50 medical research institutes and hospitals in Australia and has funded two dozen startups, according to the press release.

The fund noted two companies that "achieved significant exits": Fibrotech Therapeutics, acquired by Shire ($SHPG) in 2014, and Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, acquired by Novartis ($NVS) in 2015.

- here's the release