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Esquire seeks $40m for life science

Esquire Capital Holdings, based in Luxembourg and Sophia-Antipolis, France, is seeking to raise $40 million to invest in life science companies, predominantly in Southern Europe. The capital increase will be through the private placement of ten million ordinary shares, priced at $4 per share, with a view to a listing in the next two or three years.

Esquire was founded in April 2000 and raised $4.5 million in an initial round from family and friends. This fund has invested in four private companies; Multigen (a genomics and immunology company co-operating with academic hospitals), BTF (drug development), Veris (diagnostics) and Rebirth (using gene technology to develop cures for male pattern baldness). Gerard Iwema, chairman of Esquire Capital, said the company has already identified six new businesses (four in Southern Europe, one in the Netherlands and one in the UK) for investment. “We are also providing follow on investments to sustain the growth of the existing portfolio companies which have exceeded the milestones set following initial investment.”

The company wants to raise further capital to take advantage of emerging investment opportunities in life science. Iwema says: “From an investor point of view, current valuations are low and attractive and some excellent investment opportunities lie ahead. We believe that when we look back at this period two to three years from now, we will realise what a great opportunity this period represented.”

Esquire will invest up to $2 million in companies at an advance development stage, which are likely to commercialise a product in two to three years. Of the $40 million, 80 per cent is destined for European companies and the remainder will be invested in the US or Asia, where Esquire will co-invest with local firms. Iwema believes Esquire will have an advantage in the Sophia-Antipolis science park, in Southern France. To his knowledge, Esquire was the first, and is still the only, VC to establish a permanent base there. (Early stage tech investor, nCoTec is planning a similar move.) The company’s focus on Southern Europe, from Milan to Barcelona, was determined this summer when Esquire launched its Sophia-Antipolis operation.

Life science sectors of particular interest to Esquire include applications and technologies based on new generation genomics and proteomics, platforms for drug discovery and delivery, bioinformatics and new medical devices. Esquire will seek three types of private companies for investment: those with “micro-cap” valuations, unquoted companies in need of capital for specific projects and under-valued companies with significant growth potential. It will also consider making private investments in public companies. The company will provide its portfolio companies with scientific and managerial support from its advisory boards, with a view to increasing the value of its investment.

Of the $40 million, Iwema hopes to raise three-quarters from institutional investors and a quarter from private investors, including those who participated in the initial fund raising. Iwema, currently fund raising in the UK, reported interest from investment banks, Dutch pension funds and the VC arm of an unnamed pharmaceutical company. The fund will be marketed in Europe only.