Li Ka-shing

Li Ka-shing joins Bill Gates to fund probiotic product to fight child malnutrition

Horizons Ventures, the investment arm of Li Ka-shing’sphilanthropy foundation, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation lead US$40m funding for California-based Evolve BioSystems

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 7:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 7:32am

Tycoon Li Ka-shing has joined US billionaire Bill Gates to lead a third round of private fundraising for a product that helps prevent infant malnutrition – the latest example of an emerging trend in Asia of investments that seek to bring both returns and positive social impact.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Horizons Ventures, the investment arm of Li Ka Shing Foundation recently completed a US$40 million Series C round of funding for Evolve BioSystems.

California-based Evolve is developing an infant probiotic product called Evivo for the global market.

Evivo is an activated form of Bifidobacterium longum, which has been clinically proven to restore the beneficial bacteria in infants’ guts.

This particular bacteria, key to proper functioning of the body’s digestive and immune systems, is known to reduce other bacteria that potentially cause diseases by 80 per cent, according to Evolve.

Its deficiency could be unintentional consequences of caesarean section births, antibiotic usage, and formula feeding, which make it increasingly unlikely that today’s mothers have this beneficial bacteria to pass along to their babies.

By restoring this gut bacteria, Evivo can help infants suffering from severe acute malnutrition in developing nations, Evolve said.

Such malnutrition affects 16 million children worldwide, making them nine times more likely to die than well nourished children.

“In addition to expanding its global footprint, this new financing will also support efforts to develop new products for different age segments beyond infants, and accelerate company efforts to bring to market the first-of-its-kind microbiome diagnostic test,” Evolve added.

Microbiome tests aim to assess whether the gut has sufficient and effective microorganisms.

“We are excited to increase our investment in Evolve, and for the tremendous societal impact that Evolve can make on restoring the infant gut microbiome, particularly in Asia,” said Patrick Zhang, lead investor at Horizons Ventures and a board member of Evolve.

Impact investing refers to investments that aim to achieve both financial returns and help socially disadvantaged groups, or help mitigate or prevent environmental degradation.

An annual impact investor survey by Global Impact Investing Network found that among 81 five-year repeat international investor respondents, their combined allocation on impact investments in East and Southeast Asia was only US$7.3 billion last year, compared to US$10.4 billion in North America.

It was, however, up from US$2.7 billion in 2013, representing average annual growth of 28 per cent.

Li Ka-shing, who turns 90 next month, has officially handed the baton to his elder son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, who last month assumed chairmanship of his listed flagships CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings.

Since taking over, Victor Li has embarked on an acquisition spree.

On Thursday, CK Asset announced a £1 billion (US$1.3 billion) purchase of a grade A office tower in London, using a quarter of the proceeds from the sale of The Center, Hong Kong’s fifth tallest office building.

And on Wednesday CK Asset joined other group companies to make a US$10 billion offer to buy-out Australian natural gas pipeline firm APA Group.