OrbiMed, Novartis, and NEA lead as the most active investors in pharma startups since 2013.

Equity funding to startups working in the pharmaceutical industry has clocked in above $10B for the past 2 years. While dollars are on pace for a decline this year, deals are on-track for an all-time high.

Due to the difficulty of assessing the basic science behind a pharma company, managing potential regulatory hurdles, and designing expensive clinical trials, startups in the space often require significant funding. In addition, many investors in this industry tend to be life-science focused VCs or corporates that understand the nuances of the industry. Novartis, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithkline, and Novo Nordisk are just a few of the corporates among the most active pharma investors making private market bets, in addition to directing their own internal drug development pipelines.

We used CB Insights database to round up the most active investors since 2013 in one infographic and rank them by investments into unique pharma companies.

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Click the image to enlarge. The image showcases select investments from each of the top investors.

Most Active Pharma Investors-EA
Key Takeaways:

  • The most active investor in pharmaceutical companies since 2013 is NY-based investor OrbiMed Advisors. OrbiMed is laser focused on healthcare investments, ranging from pharmaceuticals to medical devices and diagnostics.
  • Historically, OrbiMed has invested heavily in oncology startups, with a focus on immunotherapy. But they have also made deals to companies pioneering a variety of cancer treatment methodologies such as those targeting DNA damage (Sierra Oncology, IPO 2015), gene regulation (PMV Pharmaceuticals), and T-cell therapy (Adaptimmune, IPO 2015). In addition, OrbiMed has made deals to companies working in rare diseases such as Audentes or Dimension Therapeutics, infectious diseases (Nabriva, IPO 2015), and ophthalmology (Kala Pharmaceuticals).
  • Looking just at immunotherapy companies, OrbiMed also leads as the most active investor.
  • The largest deal with OrbiMed participation since 2013 was the $120M Series B of Nabriva Therapeutics in April 2015. The company, now public, is focused on infectious diseases with multiple antibiotics currently in trials.


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  • In second, Novartis Venture Funds has also been placing numerous bets on cancer therapy startups. NVF portfolio companies are attacking cancer using a variety of techniques from immunotherapy (Adicet Bio) to targeted antibodies (Covagen, acquired by Cilag International in 2014) to protein degradation (C4 Therapeutics).
  • Demonstrative of the breadth of the NVF portfolio, the largest deal with NVF participation is also infectious disease-focused Nabriva Therapeutics. NVF has placed bets across dermatology (Thesan Pharmaceuticals), neurodegerative disease (Annexon), metabolic diseases (Vivet Therapeutics), and many other conditions.
  • In third is the multi-billion dollar venture capital firm NEA. NEA has split its portfolio between technology investments and healthcare, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and health services.
  • NEA has developed an eclectic pharma portfolio. Of the top 20 largest deals to pharma companies with NEA participation since 2013, 5 were in oncology. A few other notable areas that have received NEA attention include pain (Trevena, OrphoMed), neurodegenerative diseases (Annexon, Proteostasis), and hormone regulation (Millendo Therapeutics, ObsEva).

Want more data on pharma startups? Check out our private market database below.