Deepbridge Life Sciences, Deep domain and sector specific expertise

by | Mar 8, 2022

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Ben Carter, Investment Manager, Life Sciences at Deepbridge took time out from from a busy week to speak to our Editor Peter Wilson about the role of an investment manager and the dealflow, networks and sector specific expertise that underpins the success of the Deepbridge Life Sciences EIS portfolio.

Like our readers, we are always curious about the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of investment managers, so our Editor was keen to ask Ben about what is involved in his role with Deepbridge. Ben remarked that he is often asked about this and, for him, he can sum it up in three key elements. The first is sourcing high quality deals, looking carefully at earlystage companies in need of investment. The second part is ensuring those companies meet Deepbridge’s strict due diligence process. The third aspect is to support those companies post investment and this can come in the form of sitting on the board of a company where Ben has experience in that market. Ben explained that within Deepbridge they have a wide network of expertise and it’s vital to ensure that the right person is supporting the business post-investment.

Opportunities created through networks

Deepbridge, Ben explained, has highly specialised and experienced investment teams in place across life sciences, technology, and renewable energy. Ben’s role is within the life sciences investment team and, as they are widely respected as sector specialists, they are fortunate that their reputation precedes them and people actively seek them out. Stressing that access to capital for good quality early-stage companies is available, Ben adds that it is equally important that Deepbridge enable the companies to grow, go faster and for this they offer hands on support. The team sees between 500 to 700 opportunities a year, a vast number and yet they are extremely selective and only invest in about five to ten new companies each year. Contact opportunities and networks are created through industry events and team members are often invited to present at life sciences events as keynote speakers to discuss funding horizons in the UK. Deepbridge provides mentorship through these industry events, as sector and industry thought leaders and people that are attending often take the opportunity to reach out to talk. Their expertise is also recognised by the regular invitations to sit on judging panels for awards in the life sciences and membership communities. These relationships are valuable in that reputable sector organisations have already filtered through those companies seeking investment that wouldn’t fit Deepbridge’s mandate or the mandate of another institutional investor. Equally important is the reputation of individual team members at Deepbridge with Ben noting that for example his colleague Savvas, was a former investment banker and the number one rated life science analyst in the country. Their advisory network is extensive with an investment committee that he describes as “made up of the great and the good of the life sciences community”. LinkedIn also provides an important access contact point for those looking for an introduction to the teams at Deepbridge.

The team at Deepbridge are also mindful of the need to ensure that opportunities are built for their companies within their field of expertise. They believe that investment opportunities should be shared as their investees grow, progress and hit their milestones. This also removes some of the risk involved and they are happy to share them with their syndicates and investment partners. Working with a number of other life sciences and generalist venture capital firms, and institutional investors in their network, if a company is progressing well and is looking to raise further capital, then they will share those opportunities. This also offers reciprocity as opportunities to invest in other companies that are progressing well, are opened up to the teams at Deepbridge.

The importance of world-class university research and development

When we talk about access and creating opportunities Ben is keen to remind us of how fortunate we are in the UK to have a world-class university research and development sector that creates the incubators, accelerators and university spin outs. The UK universities, especially those working with life sciences, biomedical sciences and technology have state of the art facilities and staff with international reputations for excellence. Deepbridge has worked with many university spin outs across the UK, with start-ups from the Universities of Aberdeen, Imperial College, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Cambridge, all backed with investment. The research facilities, along with clinicians and professors mean that Deepbridge are focusing in on sector specialists and leaders in their field and they are the domain experts with the essential IP and patenting that is needed in science and technology.

Within the Deepbridge portfolio are companies who are already making an important and significant impact. As an example, Ben talks about MyNurva, which sits within their digital health space. MyNurva is a video based mental health platform developed by a clinician and domain expert. Given the issues that have arisen over the last two years with COVID it seems pertinent and timely. The company presented a plan, Ben explained, a number of years ago in terms of building the technology and its potential reach to multiple vertical markets and they are doing well, with the pandemic having helped drive demand. Supporting needs-based technology is important and another Deepbridge company is VidiVet, a veterinary telehealth company now with a consumer website and showing signs of commercial growth. The teams are also active in medtech and Deepbridge made a seed stage investment and then went on to make multiple rounds of investments in a university spin-out from Imperial College London, now trading as Pathfinder Medical. Pathfinder have just raised a further eight and a half million pounds from VCs to support their additional clinical work to complete a pivotal trial in patients to secure regulatory approval prior to commercialisation in key markets across the world.

Another key investment for Deepbridge was in Zilico, a Sheffield University spin out, which has developed a diagnostic system for cervical cancer cell detection in real time. The company are now selling the product to 12 trusts in the UK and a key to their growth over the next year or two is for them to achieve FDA approval for the US market, which is undoubtedly their biggest addressable market. Alongside Zilico are other companies who are involved in diagnostics such as FlouretIQ, identifying bacterial pathogens in 15 minutes rather than two to three days, which is the current gold standard. Deepbridge also have Elasmogen an Aberdeen University spin out which is developing a technology called SoloMERs a stable format for site specific and systemic delivery of antibody drugs. All of these companies are developing or have developed innovative processes and technologies and the future looks bright for them.

Why due diligence is essential

Having spoken about opportunities, access and successes we move to talk about what Ben sees as absolutely fundamental to the Deepbridge mandate, and for him it is their due diligence. With a very strict mandate in terms of how and what they look for in an early-stage company or indeed any company they invest in, the team are looking for a highly skilled, experienced, innovative teams. Ben adds that even if you have a great idea, unless the team are excellent, you’re never going to be able to execute the idea or commercialise it successfully. Deepbridge try to ensure that any technology or science they invest in is disruptive in nature, and that can be disrupting an existing market or creating a new market. Their aim is to ensure that it is innovative and has a clear USP. Equally, if not more important, it has to be distinguished from market competitors in life science, and almost certainly it has to come with defensible IP. This is vital. Deepbridge, Ben adds, almost never backs a company that doesn’t have some form of IP. Multiple vertical markets are the ideal because of the unpredictable nature of early-stage business. If there are multiple markets, if something goes wrong such as markets taking longer to penetrate than expected, then the ability to pivot to other markets is essential. Along with this Ben adds that they have to be scalable and companies that can show signs of significant growth, and ultimately provide good investor returns.

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About Ben Carter

Ben Carter Investment Manager – Life Sciences

Ben is Investment Manager within the Life Sciences team at Deepbridge. Prior to this role, Ben had been the managing director of Touchpoint Service and commercial director of Telmenow the healthcare equipment focussed e-commerce platform. Ben has also been chief commercial officer at Now Healthcare Group, a leading telemedicine provider with its Dr Now app.

With a BA (Hons) in Management, Ben’s other corporate experience includes being commercial director at Possum, market leaders in the provision, installation and support of many types of electronic assistive technology

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