KP funds to back clean tech, fight diseases: Pandemic fund has already invested in late-stage company combating bird flu

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers announced last week it has raised a combined $800 million for two new funds: KPCB XII, a broad $600 million technology and life science fund, and Pandemic and Bio Defense Fund, a $200 million fund that will invest in later stage companies developing treatments for diseases, such as the bird flu.

The goal of the Pandemic fund is to “accelerate innovations for worldwide pandemic preparedness and global health over the next three years, with a focus on surveillance and detection, diagnostics, vaccines and drugs,” the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company said in a prepared statement.

Of course, the timing of the fund comes amid growing concerns over the spread of bird flu. As of last week, at least 160 people worldwide were known to have been infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus, and 91 have died since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. The virus has swept through flocks across Asia and Europe, killing or forcing the killing of millions of birds. Some health experts say that the virus could continue to mutate and pose a global influenza epidemic.

Kleiner Perkins’ fund has already made an investment of an undisclosed amount in a company working on the bird flu, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: BCRX). The Birmingham, Ala.-based company has developed Peramivir, an influenza antiviral drug. In preclinical studies, Peramivir has shown potent, broad-spectrum activity against multiple strains of flu, including the H5N1 virus, according to BioCryst. In December, BioCryst announced that the FDA had given the company approval to begin human clinical trials using injectable Peramivir. Firm Partner Beth Seidenberg has joined the company’s board.

Separately, Kleiner Perkins announced the close of its 12th fund, which will invest $600 million over roughly a three-year period in information technology, life sciences and other fast-growing industries. Similarly, its previous fund, KPCB XI, also had a short investment lifecycle. Fund XI closed in 2004 with $400 million in commitments.

New in fund XII, however, is that the firm announced that $100 million of KPCB XII has been set aside for “green technologies,” also known as clean tech, to invest in biofuels, energy storage and energy conservation, among other areas.

Though this is the firm’s first clean tech initiative, Kleiner Perkins says that it has quietly backed clean tech ventures for the past five years. They include a stake in Miasole, a San Jose, Calif.-based company that has a new so-called thin-film solar technology that doesn’t require silicon, and Lilliputian of Wilmington, Mass., which is developing an innovative strategy to replace batteries with energy generation. Two other clean tech investments are in stealth mode.

“Green tech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” says Partner John Doerr. “Disruptive innovations are possible because of recent advances in chemistry, genetics, and material science. American and world leaders are calling for alternatives to $60-a-barrel oil, and entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge.”