AstraZeneca brings in VCs to boost its $5bn acquisition drive

FTSE giant woos small biotechs
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The Independent Online

AstraZeneca has ramped up its $5bn (£2.67bn) acquisition drive by inviting more than 60 venture capitalist firms to pitch companies they think the FTSE 100 giant would want to buy.

The one-day event, held last week, was the first AstraZeneca has held and underlines the emphasis placed by chief executive David Brennan on acquisitions as a way to fill the drugs giant's thin pipeline of new treatments.

Mr Brennan has said in the past that the company has up to $5bn to spend on biotech companies and licensing deals.

More than 30 AstraZeneca executives, including Mr Brennan, attended the all-day affair at the Innovation Centre near Tottenham Court Road in central London. Other AstraZeneca executives present included chief financial officer Jon Symonds, executive director for development John Patterson, head of discovery Jan Lundberg, and strategic planning and business development head John Goddard.

"They were framing themselves as the preferred partner for these types of assets," said Ian Wilcock of Questor Venture Capital, who attended the event.

He said the day was an acknowledgement that there is "a lot more external innovation going on than what they can produce internally". AstraZeneca has various departments dedicated to specific conditions, and the heads of these units all gave presentations outlining the type of companies and products they were most interested in.

A company spokeswoman said: "AstraZeneca is actively pursuing promising products and technologies from external sources. We understand the important role that VCs play in identifying such worthwhile opportunities."

The company has already had several setbacks on new drugs this year, including Iressa and Galida. "They are short on products and long on cash," said Mike Ward, a Nomura analyst. The deals AstraZeneca has done already are steps "in the right direction, but they haven't done much for the later-stage pipeline".