sideBackExcalibur was founded in 1996 as a fund advisory firm specialising in equity investments in European life science companies under the Merlin brand.

Excalibur’s conceptual foundation was the combination of science and entrepreneurship in human medicines. Sir Christopher Evans had already founded Chiroscience (later merged with Celltech), Celsis, and Enzymatix, among other companies which ultimately returned hundreds of millions of dollars to the private equity investors who backed them.

In 1996, Sir Chris founded the Merlin group of companies as a number of unique medical science investment vehicles. Merlin Ventures was the original boutique which attracted several hundred deals a year from all over the UK.

At this very early stage in the European biotech life cycle, there was virtually no seed capital investors prepared, or sufficiently skilled, to make the necessary early stage investments backing speculative, high risk bioscience research projects.

Merlin Ventures was managed by Peter Keen, a close partner of Sir Chris’s from Chiroscience PLC. They created an investment vehicle, Merlin Equity, which contained only Sir Chris’s personal funds and this vehicle exclusively seeded all of the early Merlin Ventures portfolio companies.

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Following in Sir Chris’s successful footsteps spotting world class science upon which to build a new business, Merlin Ventures created several exciting and totally unique medical companies such as Cyclacel (cancer); Microscience (infectious diseases); Biovex (cancer vaccines); ReNeuron (stem cells); Pantherix (antibiotics); Ark (gene medicine); Kindertec (baby care); and Vectura (drug formulation and delivery). Merlin Equity invested between $0.3m and $1m as seed capital into each new creation.

Fund Company Proceeds

In 1997, Merlin Ventures raised its first finance fund, The Merlin Fund I. This was a €62million fund to back all 8 of the Merlin Equity companies. Fund I was the first major seed fund for U.K. biotechnology companies, with a planned hold period for each equity investment of five to seven years. 88% of its investments were in biotechnology and 12% were in medical devices.  Its biotechnology investments were in therapeutics companies (70%) and enabling technology companies (30 Numerous other institutional investors such as Apax, 3i, JPMorgan, Advent, SEP, Ivory and Sime etc co-invested in all of Merlin’s projects. The Fund I portfolio of 8 Merlin Ventures businesses attracted over $750 million of co-investment and went on to be capitalised at over $2.6 billion. Five of the companies were quoted on stock markets. Today, one of those companies, Vectura PLC, is one of the biggest biotech success stories in Britain and Europe capitalised at over $0.5 billion. The Fund was able to achieve x3 and x4 multiple returns from a number of the investments.

Excalibur’s philosophy is to be an active investor in and supporter of its portfolio companies.

In 2000, Sir Chris formed Merlin Biosciences to focus on formal venture capital investing. The €247 million Merlin Biosciences Fund (Fund II) was one of the largest dedicated biotechnology venture capital funds in Europe. Its Limited Partners were mostly European and and the Fund was heavily invested in Germany and France as well as the UK. Its objective was pan-European investing in mid-stage and late-stage biotechnology companies, with a bias toward marketable drugs. The emphasis was to invest only with European syndicates building mostly new pharmaceutical research concepts and indoing this, Fund II attracted $1.9billion of co-investment. It had a portfolio, at its peak, of 21 biotechnology companies and 2 medical device companies, split 49% U.K. companies and 51% in European companies.   Some excellent companies were built under Fund IIs guidance, and some significant peak valuations achieved: Biovex (sold for $1bn), Vectura ($650mm), Ark (4560mm) and Arakis ($160mm).  In all Fund II compaies had a peak valuation of over $3billion.  Fund II companies had a significant positive impact on the sector.  Cyclacel was the first spin-out ever to have raised over $100mm, while ReNeuron was the first company in the world to be approved to use stem cells to treat stroke.  Other notable successful investments were Wilex (cancer); Santhera (cancer); Intercytex (cell therapy); Neurotech (ophthalmology); Epicept (pain) and Cambridge biotechnology (obesity). 12 of Fund II’s investments were successfully floated on stock markets at between 2x and 3x multiples of cost.

N 2004, Merlin closed its third fund, MBF III, at €137m. This fund returned to the original roots of Sir Chris and built most of its investee companies from scratch across a diverse range of medical science areas including PIramed (cancer); Destination Skin (dermatology); Plethora (urology); Energist (dermatology); Lab21 (diagnostics); Decon Sciences (sterilisation); Vivomedica (drug screening) and Virgin Health Bank (stem cells). The €139 Merlin Biosciences Fund III is a pan-European medical sciences fund, with an intended hold period for equity investments of three to five years. The Fund has made 10 investments.  The Fund has consistently grown in value and shown a profit premium thorugh most of its life despite the total collapse in public markets over the period.

Over the last decade, Merlin has established itself as one of Britain’s and Europe’s leading venture capital brands specialising in medical bioscience. In total Excalibur managed and advised three investment partnerships with total capital in excess of €450 million, making a total of 34 equity investments.  Excalibur is one of the largest investors in the European bioscience market and has raised more then €1bn in syndicated finance for its portfolio companies.  Consistent with its entrepreneurial and scientific approach, Excalibur is an active investor in and partner to its portfolio companies.  Excalibur normally has a seat on each company board and likes to play a leading role in financing and other strategic events.  The Excalibur investment team blends science, finance and commercial expertise in human healthcare.  Sir Chris and Excalibur now attract over 1,000 new projects a year as they are both synonymous with the creation of new and exciting medical businesses from university spin-outs of from individual corporate assets.