Oxford Bioscience Partners is losing one of its top general partners, Doug Fambrough, who has left his full-time role at the Boston venture firm to become CEO of Dicerna Pharmaceuticals. Oxford is not currently investing in new companies, Fambrough says, and he told his partners in recent weeks that he could better serve the firm at Watertown, MA-based Dicerna, which is an Oxford-backed company.
Fambrough, 41, plans to maintain a limited role with Oxford as a venture partner and will represent the firm on the boards of Malvern, PA-based Solstice Neurosciences and Xencor, headquartered in Monrovia, CA. But his main focus now is Dicerna, the developer of gene-silencing drugs, which he co-founded in 2007 in his former role as general partner at Oxford. Dicerna’s founding CEO, Jim Jenson, is remaining a member of the startup’s board of directors.
Fambrough’s reduced role at Oxford is a blow to the firm’s talent pool, which has recently lost at least a few general partners, including Michael Lytton, who decamped early last year for a senior corporate development job at the Cambridge, MA-based biotech powerhouse Biogen Idec (NASDAQBIIB). Fambrough, a genomics expert who joined the venture outfit a decade ago, led the firm’s successful investments in the West Coast startups Solexa, a maker of DNA sequencing machines, and Sirna Therapeutics, a pioneer of the RNA-interference field. San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN) gobbled up Solexa in an all-stock merger valued at $600 million in 2007, the same year that Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug giant Merck & Co. [[NYSE:MRK) wrapped up its purchase of Sirna for $1.1 billion.
Those were huge wins for Oxford, but big wins like those have been hard to come by for the firm and many of its peers in the venture capital business, which hasn’t nearly recovered from the financial meltdown. Oxford has officially ceased trying to raise a new fund, deciding to focus its efforts on supporting its existing portfolio companies, according to Fambrough. He says he does not want his leaving Oxford to be viewed as a negative development at the firm, which was temporarily listed on the PE Hub blogger Dan Primack’s list of “Walking Dead” VCs last year until Oxford’s lawyers got him to remove the firm from the dreaded list.
“My colleagues at Oxford are now long-time personal friends, not just business associates,” Fambrough says. “It does pain me to see some of the doom and gloom about Oxford; there’s no reason to think that the firm is over.”
The venture firm still has capital reserves in its fourth and fifth funds that will be used to further invest in its existing portfolio companies, he adds. In fact, Fambrough says, Oxford has committed to joining Dicerna’s Series B round of venture financing, after having led the startup’s first-round of financing in 2007. He hopes to complete the fundraising effort for the B round in the next few months. The company is in need of cash to fuel development of its next-generation RNAi technology, which uses longer nucleic acid chains than early RNAi drugs to silence genes. (Luke wrote this in-depth piece about Dicerna’s technology last year.)
In Dicerna, Oxford is hoping for an RNAi encore to its lucrative investment in Sirna. Fambrough can help make that happen, perhaps more now than when he was a general partner at the firm.