AWARD SPOTLIGHT: Lumira Ventures winner of 2021 VC Regional Impact Award for Western Canada for Zymeworks
Lumira Ventures prides itself on being a VC investor that backs promising early-stage health care and life sciences companies with the potential to dramatically improve patient care.
It was with this vision that Lumira co-lead a US$61.5M crossover financing round in 2016 for Vancouver-based Zymeworks Inc., to support the advancement of its Azymetric™ therapeutics pipeline for the treatment of cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
The crossover round — co-led by BDC Capital and included co-investment participation from Lumira LPs Northleaf Capital, Teralys Capital and the Fonds FTQ and was further supported by a syndicate of U.S. and Canadian institutional investors. This investment was the catalyst for Zymeworks to expand its research team, prepare for clinical trials and complete a successful IPO on the Toronto Stock Exchange followed by the New York Stock Exchange a year later.
In the announcement, Lumira pointed to the “significant commitments made by leading oncology companies and biotech investors” to the company at that time including Eli Lilly and Company, Celgene, CTI Life Sciences Fund, and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ.
What’s more, Zymeworks was able to carry on its work while remaining in Vancouver and helping to expand the biotech ecosystem in the region.
“What we’ve seeing is Vancouver emerging as a very significant player in the biologic space, with Zymeworks at the forefront,” says Dr. Daniel Hétu, managing director of Lumira, which is based in Toronto with offices in Vancouver, Montreal, and Boston.
For Lumira, the bet on Zymeworks, in particular its founder and CEO Ali Tehrani, was a significant win. Last year, Lumira sold its stake in Zymeworks, as the company achieved a public market valuation in excess of US$2B.
Hétu says it was the right time for the exit. “Ultimately, we build companies and provide returns to our investors so that we can then help other entrepreneurs by investing in other companies. It’s part of our normal investment cycle.”
Zymeworks saw significant growth from the 2016 investment, going from 115 full-time employees to about 369 at the end of 2020. Since then, the headcount has increased by more than 35%, “and that growth trajectory is expected to continue through this year and likely beyond,” says Tehrani, who co-founded the company in 2003 with Anthony Fejes.
“The power of the Zymeworks’ platforms is substantiated by the breadth and the quality of the company’s partnerships,” Tehrani says, noting that the company currently has nine active partnerships worth potentially up to US$8.6 billion. Five of them, including with Merck, Lilly, Celgene/BMS, GSK and Daiichi-Sankyo, have been ongoing for at least four years, he adds.
Tehrani says the company chose Lumira as one of its key investors given its ability to reach into broader pools of capital in Canada and the U.S. and its strong vision for the company.
“The team at Lumira always thinks big, always delivers big, and puts companies in a place to go above and beyond what they would otherwise be capable of,” Tehrani says. “I’m proud of our interactions with the entire team at Lumira and I very much appreciate their advice, friendship, and guidance over the years.”
Importantly, for Lumira and Zymeworks is that Zymeworks remains headquartered in Vancouver, with a second office in Seattle.
“The beauty of having some Canadian companies going public is that it allows them to attract capital from different investors but remain in Canada,” Hétu says. “It’s a good outcome for founders and investors.”
Hétu says investing in Western Canada, and Canada in general, is important to Lumira: “We’re investors, but at the same time we a committed to building the Canadian ecosystem by helping Canadian entrepreneurs and Canadian scientists really build their companies, move their technologies and achieve their vision for changing patient lives. Being part of making that happen is very rewarding for us.”