ROCKY MOUNT,The Golden LEAF Foundation has signed a letter of intent with BioVista Management to invest up to $30 million in a new venture capital fund that, in turn, will invest in biotech and biopharma companies.

With lead financing from Golden LEAF, BioVista Management will create the BioVista Fund, which will invest in life science companies that provide or support jobs in North Carolina. Headquartered in Durham, BioVista will be one of the first later-stage biotechnology funds based in North Carolina.

The BioVista Fund is targeting total capital for investment of $120 million. Golden LEAF will be the lead limited partner.

To form the new BioVista Fund, Golden LEAF announced earlier this year that it would invest $30 million in Durham-based Catalysta. Another $10 million would go to the fourth fund now being raised by Aurora Funds of Durham, and $2 million would be invested by Tryon Capital of Chapel Hill, both for early-stage deals.

The Golden LEAF investment is part of an $85.4-million economic stimulus package the foundation announced in August.

“Biotechnology is a logical growth area for North Carolina,” Golden LEAF President Valeria Lee said in a statement at the time. “Helping provide the financing for new plants is a very tangible way to carry out our mission as well as strengthen our investment portfolio.”

According to the letter of intent, which was signed Wednesday, Golden LEAF may have a representative on the Business Advisory Board and the foundation’s representative, will, if requested, chair the Limited Partnership Advisory Committee.

While BioVista Management itself is new, management of the BioVista Fund includes some veteran leaders of the biotechnology and venture capital fields.

Principals of the management team include Dana Fowlkes, who holds M.D. and Ph.D. degrees and is a molecular geneticist who was an executive at Novalon Pharmaceutical Corp.; and Catalysta Partner Clay Thorp, a co-founder and executive of Novalon and other biotech companies, like Xanthon and Synthematix, for which he serves as CEO.

Other advisors include Ken Lee, the former head of international life sciences at Ernst & Young who recently stepped down as president at venture firm AM Pappas ; and Tim Gupton, a CPA with 30 years of accounting experience who has been a partner and co-founder of several public and private biopharma companies.

In its letter of intent, BioVista officials said, “An investment in the BioVista Fund would be an integral part of ongoing efforts to invest meaningful capital over the next three to five years in North Carolina’s efforts to maintain and improve its competitive position in attracting biotech and biopharma companies into the state.

The letter went on to say that in order to help provide financing capital that meets the needs of the biopharma industry, the BioVista Fund will collaborate with leaders from the biopharma industry within North Carolina, NC BIO, commercial banks headquartered in North Carolina, universities and community colleges in the state, and other important industry participants.

In addition to the management team, the BioVista Fund will have three advisory boards or committees, including a Scientific Advisory Board. Chair of that board will be Thomas Shenk, chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, president of the American Society of Microbiology, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Golden LEAF’s Board of Directors has been considering investments in the biotech field for more than a year. Its investment committee, chaired by William Clarke of Asheville, this fall recommended that the foundation ask its investment management consultant, Deutsche Banc Alex Brown, to advise it on its biotech investments.

Founded in 1999, Golden LEAF is a statewide foundation funded with proceeds from the settlement of litigation brought by North Carolina and other states against tobacco companies. It has a very specific purpose…helping tobacco-dependent and impacted counties deal with the long-term consequences of the decline of the tobacco industry.

Golden LEAF has made 172 grants focusing primarily on agriculture, economic growth, and workforce preparedness. Its offices are based in Rocky Mount, NC.

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