Novira sale a big win for early-stage funders

Novira Therapeutics

Novira sale a big win for early-stage funders

Last month’s acquisition of Novira Therapeutics by Johnson & Johnson should not be viewed as just another example of an early-stage biopharmaceutical firm being swallowed up by a larger health care conglomerate, in the eyes of two local executives from firms that help support young life sciences companies.

Ellen Weber, executive director of Robin Hood Ventures, and Barbara Schilberg, CEO of BioAdvance, look at the deal as a major victory for early-stage funding in the area.

“There’s not a lot of funding in this region,” Weber said, “but here’s an example of everything you want to have happen actually happening.”

Novira Therapeutics, which started in Radnor and later operated out of the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County in Doylestown was founded in 2009 with the help of BioAdvance, a biotechnology greenhouse that supports and nurtures startups in the life sciences industry. BioAdvance was created by the state using tobacco settlement money, but the organization is now self-supported.

“We worked with the company for almost a year before we provided any funding,” Schilberg said. “What impressed us was the company was led by two ex-Merck scientists [Osvaldo Flores and George Hartman] who wanted to focus on a cure for hepatitis B, which at the time was not fashionable. The world was then looking at hepatitis C, but they absolutely knew the landscape. … They knew where the puck was moving.”

Schilberg said they had arranged for Novira to meet with some interested venture capital groups just before the financial crisis hit in September 2008, which caused the venture capital market to become “frozen.” BioAdvance ended up providing the company with about $500,000 in seed financing, and a total of about $1 million in financial support over two years, before three local angel investors stepped up in 2011 to help keep Novira afloat and moving forward.

Read the full article at Philadelphia Business Journal.