San Diego’s Leading Ventures Takes on Commercialization of Bioengineering Breakthroughs

Xconomy San Diego — 

[Corrected 2/9/11, 2:15 pm. See below.] Their histories are so entwined, it’s hard to say which were sowed first—the seeds of San Diego’s Leading Ventures or those of InflammaGen, an early stage biotech founded to commercialize technology conceived by Geert Schmid-Schönbein, a professor of bioengineering at UC San Diego.

Leading Ventures revealed last month that it plans to raise an inaugural fund of as much as $10 million that would be used primarily to fund InflammaGen and AnoZyme, a related diagnostics startup that also licensed technology developed in Schmid-Schöenbein’s lab.

With each company, “Our strategy is to fund human testing, and then find a partner to take us through the full FDA approval process,” says John Rodenrys, a senior managing director at Leading Ventures. Until now, Leading Ventures has operated mostly behind the scenes as a vehicle for investing money from friends and family, says Rodenrys, an angel investor and longtime medical device executive in San Diego and Orange Counties.

John Rodenrys (courtesy UCSD)

[Corrects to show Chip Parker instead of John Macfie as a founder] “Five years ago, I sat down with two colleagues and we discussed how angel investing was just not generating returns,” Rodenrys tells me. He decided with his partners, Charles Gathers and Chip Parker, that Leading Ventures would actually manage the technology development and commercialization from an early stage. “It’s a different model than most VCs use,” says Rodenrys, who initially served as InflammaGen’s CEO. The firm says it intends to serve as an alternative funding resource for early startups with long-term potential.

Rodenrys and Schmid-Schönbein met in 2005 at an informal event organized by UC San Diego’s William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement, which was founded to help commercialize technology coming out of UCSD’s engineering labs.

“The von Liebig Center has supported the translation of some of Dr. Schimid-Schönbein’s research through the award of three grants for proof of concept,” von Liebig Director Rosibel Ochoa told me by e-mail. Volunteer business and technology advisors “continued providing support to Dr. Schönbein and Mr. Rodenrys, even after the grant funding was completely spent and the company was launched.”

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